A Texas millionaire was convicted today of arranging the murder of his ex-wife, who was found shot in her kitchen with her throat slit as her 2-year-old quadruplets crawled in her blood.
Allen Blackthorne, 45, was the last of four people suspected in the murder-for-hire of Sheila Bellush to be convicted or to plead guilty. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
The verdict came hours after the hitman pleaded guilty in Florida. Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., 24, then sang a song in court asking for forgiveness. He was given two consecutive life sentences.
Bellush, 35, was slain in Sarasota, Fla., in 1997. Her body was discovered by her 13-year-old daughter from her marriage to Blackthorne. Her quadruplets from her second marriage were crawling around unharmed, wearing their life jackets for use in the backyard swimming pool.
Heated Custody Battle Prosecutors portrayed Blackthorne as a man who hated his ex-wife and who, after a string of custody battles, offered up to $54,000 to have her killed, with a bonus if he regained custody of his two daughters, who had been adopted by Bellush’s second husband. Prosecutors said he had used private investigators to track down Bellush after she moved from Texas.
During the trial, Blackthorne took the stand and admitted he once threatened to kill Bellush because he thought she was a negligent mother. But he denied arranging her murder.
The federal jury took 33 hours to find Blackthorne guilty of interstate conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and interstate domestic violence. He faces sentencing Nov. 2.
Joy and Disappointment The courtroom was silent as the verdict was read because marshals had warned against any outbursts. But once her elevator reached the ground floor, Gene Smith, Bellush’s mother, spread her arms and yelled, “Hallelujah!” as the doors opened.
“God bless all of these people who stood up for my daughter,” she said. “God bless these wonderful people.”
Defense attorney Richard Lubin said: “We felt that there was more than reasonable doubt. A great injustice has been done.” The lawyer said he will appeal.
Blackthorne retired after making a fortune selling medical devices. His Vancouver, Wash.-based business, International Rehabilitative Sciences, sells muscle stimulators under the name RS Medical.
‘You’re a Worthless Coward’ The two middlemen in the plot are already in prison: The man who hired Del Toro, his cousin Sammy Gonzales, got 19 years behind bars. And Daniel Rocha, Blackthorne’s golfing buddy and the man who asked Gonzales to find someone to kill Bellush, is serving life in prison.
In the Sarasota courtroom, Bellush’s widower, Jamie Bellush, held up pictures of his wife’s bloody, disfigured face for Del Toro to see.
Del Toro looked away.
“Mr. Del Toro, you’re a worthless coward with no remorse in your heart!” he bellowed. He added: “It’s unfortunate that I could not stand and watch you take your last breath with a needle in your arm.”
Then Del Toro said he, too, wanted to make a statement. His eyes red as he fought to hold back tears, he told Bellush in a soft, slow voice: “I do deserve to die. I am what you said of me. I can now admit it.”
At one point, Del Toro broke into song: “Beautiful. That’s how mercy saw me. I was broken and so lost. Mercy looked past all my faults.”
Jamie Bellush later called Blackthorne’s verdict “a bittersweet thing.”
“It’s a tragic story for everyone involved,” he said, “but certainly our family is going to have closure.”