Longtime Tampa Bay area residents might remember the name Sheila Bellush. In 1997, the Sarasota mother of quadruplets was killed in a brutal murder-for-hire plot.
One of the masterminds behind her death went to court on Friday to ask for a sentence reduction. But the hearing took a bizarre twist.
In Nov. 1997, Bellush was moving on from her tumultuous marriage to ex-husband Allen Blackthorne in Texas.
Officials say Blackthorne, with the help of his golfing buddy, Danny Rocha, paid Jose Del Toro to kill Bellush. Del Toro shot her and slit her throat.
Rocha, the middleman, was sentenced to life in prison for his role.
Recently, he came forward, claiming he had new evidence to prove his limited involvement and wanted to ask the judge for a sentence reduction.
On Friday, Rocha was in court and Del Toro was brought down from north Florida to testify, when suddenly, Rocha and his attorney decided to withdraw their motion. Del Toro would not be brought to the stand.
“Based on my attorney’s advice, I determined it was the right decision,” said Rocha.
Judge Hunter Carroll was frustrated and insisted that Rocha think about his choice.
“It’s a little heavy information, I don’t know if time will change this your honor,” said Rocha.
“We brought Del Toro at great expense to the taxpayers of Sarasota County for this hearing,” said Judge Carroll.
Prosecutors feel Del Toro’s testimony would’ve only confirmed Rocha’s involvement.
“I anticipated from the information that I had that if Mr. Del Toro testified here today, he would’ve spoke about the defendant’s active involvement in procuring the death and murder of Ms. Sheila Bellush,” said prosecutor Art Jackman.
“We were very confident that we were going to prevail if Mr. Del Toro testified and I think the defendant realized he was not going to prevail.”
They say Bellush’s family is relieved.
“Mr. Bellush was very concerned that Mr. Rocha may be able to escape the punishment that he so justly deserves,” said prosecutor Karen Fraivillig.
Rocha’s life sentence will stand.
Del Toro is also servicing life in prison. Blackthorne died while in prison.