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Bellush Murder Case

One pleads guilty in Sarasota killing

By JOUNICE L. NEALY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 1998


SARASOTA -- A man charged in the slaying of a mother of six children, including 2-year-old quadruplets, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

The guilty plea by Samuel Gonzales, 27, along with his cooperation with prosecutors, helped him avoid a stiffer penalty in the death of Sheila Bellush.

A second suspect, 28-year-old Daniel Alex Rocha, was indicted Friday on first-degree murder charges. Rocha already had been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, to which he pleaded not guilty.

In addition, sworn statements released by Rocha's attorney after the indictment indicate that Bellush's ex-husband, Texas businessman Allen Blackthorne, was involved in the conspiracy.

Blackthorne's attorney denied the accusation.

"Allen Blackthorne vehemently denies any involvement whatsoever in the death of Sheila Bellush," attorney Richard Lubin said.

Bellush was shot in the head in her Sarasota home Nov. 7. She was found by one of her two teenage daughters. Her four quadruplets crawled unharmed around her body.

Since then, prosecutors in Texas and Florida have worked to prove that Rocha and Gonzales, buddies who lived in San Antonio, Texas, were involved in a murder plot.

Prosecutors say a third man, Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., a cousin of Gonzales, was the triggerman. Del Toro, 22, is facing a first-degree murder charge in Florida. He fled to Mexico, where he was arrested and jailed, and is appealing extradition.

Jamie Bellush, Sheila's widower who now lives in New Jersey, is planning to protest delays in the extradition by picketing Tuesday in front of the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C.

He said he expected Gonzales' plea.

"He certainly looks like he was involved," Jamie Bellush said.

Gonzales had been negotiating with prosecutors since his arrest in November. He already implicated Rocha and Del Toro, telling prosecutors he saw Rocha offer Del Toro at least $10,000 to kill Bellush.

Pleading guilty to conspiracy was "in his best interest," said Fred Mercurio, Gonzales' attorney.

In Texas, Gonzales was sentenced to 30 years after pleading guilty to solicitation of capital murder in the Bellush case. His Florida sentence will run concurrently, meaning he will serve no additional time in prison.

He is being held in Sarasota County Jail, but it is possible Gonzales eventually could be moved to Texas to be closer to his family, prosecutors say.

Unlike Gonzales, Rocha has been unable to strike an agreement with Florida prosecutors.

"I can say that negotiations were attempted with Daniel Rocha but failed because Rocha demanded a deal before he would give certain corroborating information," said Assistant State Attorney Charlie Roberts of Sarasota. "And we do not negotiate on those kinds of terms."

Rocha's trial had been set for Nov. 2, but Roberts said that likely will be changed.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Rocha faces a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole. He also is being held in Sarasota County Jail. Roberts said he "could not say whether the death penalty is a possibility."

Rocha's attorney, Jackson McGill, did not return phone calls placed to his office and his home.

Prosecutors say it was McGill who released sworn statements from Gonzales saying that the conspiracy began with Blackthorne shopping for someone to beat up his ex-wife.

Blackthorne has been the subject of speculation since the murder investigation began. He and Rocha played golf the day Sheila Bellush was killed.

But Lubin denied those claims, saying Gonzales' statement is like a game of telephone.

"Gonzales says that Rocha says that Blackthorne said that somebody should beat (Sheila Bellush) up," Lubin said.

"If there's one thing we should know it's that statements made by people who are looking at the death penalty should not be accepted at face value," Lubin said from his West Palm Beach office. "There's very often a motive involved."

Blackthorne still is in San Antonio, Lubin said, and has no plans to go anywhere.

Still, "I really just don't think this investigation is going to lead to an arrest and indictment of Allen Blackthorne," Lubin said.

State prosecutors still are investigating.

"Our goal has been to identify everyone involved in this case," Roberts said. "And the investigation will continue until everyone is ID'd."
-- Information from the Sarsota Herald-Tribune, Associated Press and Times files was used in this report.


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