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Suspected hit man in Bellush case pleads not guilty

A public defender enters the plea on behalf of Jose Luis Del Toro, who didn't attend the court hearing and remains jailed.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 15, 1999

SARASOTA -- Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., accused of killing a Sarasota mother of quadruplets, chose not to appear for his first court hearing, but his public defender entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Del Toro, 23, will remain in the Sarasota County Jail without bail while he awaits trial for first-degree murder in the death of Sheila Bellush.

"The bond will remain at zero. The public defender will be appointed. Nothing further," said Sarasota County Judge Judy Goldman.

Assistant State Attorney Charlie Roberts declined to say whether he would seek a plea agreement with Del Toro or ask for his assistance in investigating what, if any, role Sheila Bellush's ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne, played in her death. Blackthorne has not been charged with a crime.

"Our goal right now is to prosecute him (Del Toro) for first-degree murder," Roberts said. Del Toro faces life in prison after Sarasota authorities waived the death penalty as a condition of Del Toro's extradition from Mexico.

Elliott Metcalfe, the head public defender for the 12th Judicial Circuit, said he will meet with Del Toro on Friday. Metcalfe declined to comment on whether there will be plea negotiations.

Alfredo Padilla, a Texas lawyer who has represented the Del Toro family on other matters, said Del Toro's family is doing "as well as can be expected."

"What really tears them up is the news reports that this is the case that deserves the death sentence, that he's a cold-blooded murderer, and no one says what a nice young man he is," Padilla said Wednesday.

Del Toro, who is from south Texas, is accused of being the hit man in the murder-for-hire plot. He fled to Mexico after authorities said he shot Bellush in the face, then slit her throat in front of her quadruplet toddlers in November 1997.

After 20 months in a Mexican prison, Del Toro was extradited Monday to Miami and booked Tuesday in the Sarasota County Jail.

After his arrest in 1997, Del Toro told Mexican authorities he entered Bellush's Sarasota home and hit her twice in the face but did not kill her.

He said she actually was killed by an accomplice he knew only as "Jorge."

Del Toro's next court appearance is Aug. 20. He will be arraigned, and a trial date will be set. The trial is expected for some time next year.

-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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