Man convicted in murder-for-hire 22 years ago asks for lighter sentence

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Inside a Sarasota home 22 years ago, a mother of six was home caring for her children when a man snuck in and murdered her.

The killer was a hitman, sent by her ex-husband, who lived in Texas at the time.

Now the middle-man who set up the hit wants to be released from prison. Bound in handcuffs, Danny Rocha waved to his family as he appeared before a Sarasota County judge. Rocha's attorney, Peter Coen filed a motion to vacate his client's life sentence.

A Sarasota County jury sentenced Rocha to life in prison 10 years ago for his part in the murder of Sheila Bellush, who gave birth to quadruplets two years before her death.

The hitman, Joey Del Toro broke into Bellush's home and shot her as she was caring her for her babies. Bellush's teenage daughter found her mother's body when she came home from school. 

Bellush's ex-husband, millionaire Allen Blackthorne enlisted Rocha to hire Del Toro to kill Bellush.

"Our motion is based on [the] fact that there is newly-discovered evidence that Mr. Rocha was able to procure," Coen said in court Friday. 

The evidence is an affidavit containing statements made by Del Toro, who said Rocha gave him Bellush's address but did not tell him to kill Bellush.

"Was there a statement in that affidavit pertaining to the address?" Coen asked Rocha. 

"Yes, he did say the passing of the address was only meant to locate Ms. Bellush," said Rocha. 

The affidavit claims Rocha only knew Bellush would be roughed up by Del Toro. 

"I did not intend for Del Toro to enter or commit a burglary in the home," said Rocha. 

Prosecutors argued it doesn't matter what Rocha intended. They say the only thing that matters is Sheila Bellush was murdered - and Rocha had a role in it.

"If you enter a residence to commit a crime, aggravated battery, then you are guilty of all the crimes of your co-participants, whether you intended that or not," said prosecutor Art Jackman. 

Judge Hunter Carroll wants to hear from the killer before making a decision. Joey Del Toro will be brought from his prison cell in Santa Rosa County to Sarasota County next month. 

"Even if Del Toro testifies, his testimony will be unreliable. He’s the killer. He’s got no consequence for his testimony," said Jackman. 

Bellush's ex-husband died in 2014 while serving a life sentence.