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Mexico will deport suspect arrested in Sarasota murder

By KELLY RYAN

©St. Petersburg Times, published November 22, 1997


Authorities in Mexico and Texas late Friday began the process of deporting the suspected triggerman in the fatal shooting of a Sarasota mother of quadruplets.

Texas Rangers planned to meet Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., 21, and his Mexican escorts in the center of the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge at the end of Interstate 35 near Laredo. Because of security concerns, the exact time was not revealed.

After immigration officials confirm Del Toro is a U.S. citizen, Texas Rangers planned to take him into custody and drive him to a nearby jail, said officials in Texas and Washington, D.C.

After a two-week search, Del Toro was found before 5 p.m. Thursday in the industrial city of Monterrey, some 140 miles south of Laredo.

Del Toro did not resist as Mexican police and immigration officials handcuffed him, said Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Del Toro, a former high school star running back, is the third person to be arrested in the Nov. 7 murder of 35-year-old Sheila Bellush, who had moved to Florida with her family two months before. Samuel Gonzales, 27, Del Toro's cousin, and Daniel Alex Rocha, 28, are charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

The prospect of Del Toro's speedy return to the United States delighted Florida detective and prosecutors eager to question him.

"We're elated to have Mr. Del Toro and are hopeful to get him back here because we certainly want to talk to him," said Sarasota sheriff's Lt. Bill Stookey.

Authorities say Del Toro drove a 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse from Texas to Sarasota, where witnesses reported seeing him near the Bellushes' rented home Nov. 6. The next day, investigators say, he shot Bellush at least once with a .45-caliber pistol. A print of his right little finger was found on a clothes dryer in the home, authorities said.

Del Toro's car was found three days later in Austin, Texas, with handwritten directions to the Bellush home inside.

Investigators think Del Toro went from there to Mexico by way of Eagle Pass, Texas. Anyone can easily cross the border into Mexico for a short trip, such as a night out at a restaurant or a bar.

However, Mexican authorities require that visitors who travel more than 15 miles into the country or plan to stay longer than 72 hours have a visa, immigration officials said.

It was unclear how Del Toro, who apparently had not filled out the appropriate paperwork, made it through other checkpoints and managed to travel into the interior of the country.

"He might have claimed to be a Mexican citizen or used fake ID," said Ramon Juarez, area port director of the U.S. immigration office in Laredo. "It's pretty serious if you violate immigration laws in Mexico. You could be looking at stiff fines and sanctions. In this case, rather than delay, they're probably working very closely with U.S. agencies."

Throughout the day, there were conflicting reports in Florida, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Mexico about whether Del Toro was being deported or extradited. The answer didn't become clear until early evening when an official with the U.S. State Department said Del Toro was being deported because he was an illegal alien.

Extradition could have been far more complicated -- involving attorneys and court hearings -- and would have taken more time. Once Del Toro joins the other two suspects in Texas, Sarasota prosecutors will have to apply for a governor's warrant and ask the Texas governor to extradite all three.

Shortly after he was identified as the prime suspect, Del Toro was seen in Piedras Negras, Mexico, a border town he had visited frequently while in high school in south Texas.

Texas Rangers got information several days ago that Del Toro was hiding out in Monterrey, Mexico's third-largest city with a population of more than 1-million. He was found in a home with Salvadoran students in the southeast corner of the city, near a university and in a neighborhood of commercial and residential growth.

He spent Thursday night in a Monterrey jail. A woman who answered the phone at his sister's home Thursday said his family was traveling to Mexico to see him.

Friday morning, he was paraded in front of reporters. Wearing a tight white T-shirt and a blank expression, he did not answer questions.
-- Times staff writers Leanora Minai and Dan McDuffie and researcher Barbara Oliver contributed to this report.


©Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.