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Bellush murder

 


Slaying suspect arrested

By LEANORA MINAI and KELLY RYAN

©St. Petersburg Times, published November 21, 1997


The 21-year-old man suspected in the shooting death of a Sarasota mother was captured late Thursday after eluding police for nearly two weeks.

Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., a former south Texas high school football star, was arrested without incident at 4:57 p.m. in the Mexican city of Monterrey, said officials in Eagle Pass, Texas, and in Sarasota.

Mexican police and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents picked him up at a house where a group of Salvadoran students was staying, the Texas Rangers told San Antonio television station KENS.

Del Toro was being questioned by Mexican police in Monterrey, a city of about 1-million some 200 miles south of Piedras Negras, the border town where he was thought to be hiding, authorities said.

"His exact whereabouts, as well as the time and place of deportation are being kept a secret for security reasons," Texas Ranger John Martin said.

The international search for Del Toro began Nov. 11, when Sarasota detectives released his picture and announced he had left behind a trail of evidence in the home of 35-year-old Sheila Bellush.

Mrs. Bellush was found dead on Nov. 7, about two months after she moved to Florida with her husband, quadruplet toddlers and two daughters from a previous marriage.

"We're all very emotionally drained. I'm glad the guy is captured, but it won't bring Sheila back," Joel Bellush, the brother of Sheila's husband, James Bellush, said Thursday from his New Jersey home.

Should Del Toro fight extradition, the process of getting him out of Mexico could take months, according to experts. But it is possible that Mexican officials could choose to order Del Toro deported for violating Mexican laws because he was in the country more than 72 hours without a Mexican visa.

Del Toro apparently abandoned his 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse in Austin, Texas, before heading to Mexico. The car was found Nov. 10.

The search for Del Toro has been concentrated on the town of Piedras Negras. He had been seen at a hotel and by a taxi driver near by.

In recent days, authorities have said they continued to get tips about his whereabouts and that evidence suggested he was still in Mexico.

* * *

But even up until earlier this week, Mexican authorities said they were not hustling to find Del Toro, because he had not committed a crime there. In fact, Mexican authorities were not even authorized to pick him up until a warrant requesting the arrest arrived from the United States.

Sarasota County Sheriff Geoffrey Monge has hinted that prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Del Toro in the case. But if he is in Mexico, that matter could be complicated by the U.S. extradition treaty with Mexico. The treaty requires states to waive the death penalty in most cases before Mexico will send a murder defendant back for prosecution.

The arrest came hours after Mrs. Bellush was laid to rest at First Presbyterian Church in Newton, N.J., where about 125 people gathered to remember her.

The Rev. Jeffrey Hatch told mourners: "We shouldn't need to be here, but we are. Sheila has been taken from us and questions, a void and anguish have taken her place." He asked the assembly to "turn to God's words for comfort."

He read from Psalm 37: "Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass, they will soon wither."

In another development Thursday, a Bradenton private investigator said he was hired to gather information on Mrs. Bellush before her murder. Chuck Chambers, a former Palmetto police officer, and his attorney would not say who hired him or what information he had obtained.

Chambers has not been formally questioned but he hopes to talk to detectives in the next few days. Detectives have suspected that the killer had help finding the Bellushes, who moved to Florida two months before her death, because their Markridge Road address is not listed on county records.

"All knowledge that he has is a result of his doing his job as a good investigator," said attorney Larry Byrd, who was retained by Chambers earlier this week to determine what information Chambers can disclose without violating privacy and client confidentiality. "He was hired to gather information which was routine and regular in his business."

Also in Sarasota on Thursday, a judge released portions of the arrest reports for San Antonio residents Samuel Gonzales, 27, and Daniel Alex Rocha, 28. Gonzales, a cousin of Del Toro's, and Rocha, a golfing buddy of Mrs. Bellush's ex-husband, are charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Four local media agencies requested that the records be opened, but detectives and prosecutors persuaded Chief Circuit Judge Andrew Owens Jr. to black out some details, citing an ongoing investigation. Prosecutors redacted any mention of the two suspects, so it is still unclear what role they are suspected of playing.

The reports do, however, provide insight into how quickly Del Toro Jr., 21, emerged as a suspect. Witnesses saw a Mitsubishi Eclipse with a Texas tag driving near the Bellushes' home the day before her murder.

The day of the killing, a lawn maintenance worker gave deputies the car's license tag and saw a man wearing camouflage clothing emerge from the car. Investigators eventually ran the number through Texas records and by 7 a.m. Nov. 9 had Del Toro's name as the principle driver of the car, which was a gift from his grandmother in La Pryor, Texas.

That afternoon, investigators found a copy of Del Toro's license at a Hampton Inn in Sarasota. By Nov. 10, they matched a Texas record of his fingerprint to one from his right little finger found on the dryer in the Bellush home.
-- Information from the Associated Press and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune was used in this report.


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