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Sarasota Herald Tribune 

January 15, 1999
Section: A SECTION
Page: 1A
Jose Luis Jimenez STAFF WRITER

Daniel Alex Rocha has said he agreed to scare Sheila Bellush, not kill her.  On the fourth day of his murder trial, prosecutors rested their case by showing she was slaughtered.

Graphic photographs depicting the gunshot wound to her head and knife cuts to her throat that caused Bellush to bleed to death on the tile floor of her Sarasota home were shown to jurors Thursday. Bellush's widower, Jamie, wept and later lashed out at Rocha during a break in the trial.

``You butchered her!'' he blurted as Rocha was escorted out of the Sarasota courtroom and into a holding cell. Jamie Bellush immediately apologized to a nearby bailiff.

Rocha is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for his role in the death of Bellush, a Sarasota mother of six, including quadruplets. Prosecutors say Rocha, 29, plotted with two Texas men to kill Bellush.

Defense attorney Jack McGill had tried to prevent Chief Assistant State Attorney Henry Lee from showing the pictures to the jury.

Medical examiner William Broussard testified in detail about the autopsy he performed on Bellush and his conclusion that wounds on her arms indicate Bellush struggled with her attacker. She could have survived if she had received immediate medical attention after the Nov. 7, 1997, attack, Broussard said.

As the evidence against him mounted, Rocha once again sought to secure a plea agreement from prosecutors. After the prosecution concluded its case, Circuit Judge Nancy Donnellan gave both sides the entire afternoon to work on a deal and sent the jurors home.

The negotiations, later described as contentious, started shortly before noon and continued until 1 p.m. Rocha was then connected to a polygraph machine to determine whether he was telling the truth. He answered questions posed to him by investigators and prosecutors.

The session broke off in the evening when both sides could not agree on the details of the plea agreement. It was the second day in a row that negotiations ended without a deal.

The agreement prosecutors offered is similar to the one they struck with Samuel Gonzales, who said he was hounded by Rocha to hire Gonzales' cousin, Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., to harm Bellush. Gonzales, who testified against Rocha on Wednesday, received a reduced sentence of 19 years in prison for his cooperation.

Both sides feel pressure to secure a deal because if Rocha takes the stand in his own defense, which he had been scheduled to do Thursday, he will probably be lost as a potential witness in future trials.

Del Toro, who police say killed Bellush, faces a first-degree murder trial when he returns to Florida. He is in a Mexico City jail fighting extradition to the United States.

And implicated in the plot is Bellush's ex-husband, San Antonio businessman Allen Blackthorne. Throughout the trial, prosecutors have named him as the impetus to harm Bellush. Rocha's testimony is considered essential if authorities decide to charge Blackthorne in the case.

Blackthorne has not been charged and says he's innocent.

Rocha's trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today at the Sarasota County Judicial Center. A plea agreement could be presented to Donnellan then. If the jury convicts Rocha of first-degree murder, the San Antonio native will face up to life in prison.

Rocha could testify today. He has said in interviews that he was involved in a plot to hurt Bellush but had no intention of having her killed.

On Thursday, Blackthorne once again became an issue when prosecutor Charlie Roberts quizzed Texas Ranger Gerardo De Los Santos on the status of the Bellush murder investigation. McGill objected, arguing that it was irrelevant, and Donnellan did not allow the testimony.

A juror had written the judge a note Wednesday asking why Blackthorne had not been arrested and prosecutors were trying to answer the question in open court through testimony, according to those familiar with their tactics.

Besides having the graphic testimony presented, prosecutors Roberts and Lee called two police experts who performed tests on a handgun and bloodied clothing police say they found in Del Toro's car. They concluded that the silver semiautomatic was the weapon used to shoot Bellush and that her blood was found on Del Toro's camouflage clothes.

Del Toro's ex-girlfriend, Anna Morales, then testified that she gave Del Toro the gun and saw him with $500 days before the murder.

Gonzales has testified that Del Toro was paid $4,000 for his role and was offered an extra $10,000, to be delivered later. Gonzales also testified that he and Rocha were to receive jobs at a golf course Black-thorne was developing.

The jury could begin deliberations this afternoon.

Caption: (Daniel Alex) Rocha

Terence LaVoy of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement identifies a gun Thursday as the weapon used to kill Sheila Bellush.

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