LITA McCLINTON SULLIVAN - JAMES V. "JIM" SULLIVAN - MURDER FOR HIRE & A 19 YEAR QUEST FOR JUSTICE
LITA McCLINTON SULLIVAN
Jo Ann McClinton (Lita McClinton Sullivan's mother) "She was just very, very special to everybody."
Poppy Marable (Lita's best friend) "She was the extrovert. I was the introvert. And so she had this charismatic personality."
Photo: Lita McClinton Sullivan
1975 - Lita McClinton (23) has graduated from college and is employed in a boutique in Atlanta, Georgia.
1975 - James V. Sullivan inherits from his uncle (Frank Bienert) a successful business called Crown Beverage, Inc. in Macon Ga.
During the course of her work, Lita meets James "Jim" Sullivan (34). He begins pursuing her romantically.
Poppy Marable "He courted her as an older gentlemen could. He had resources. Jim can be charming."
1976 - December - The night before Lita's wedding, Jim Sullivan finally tells her of his previous marriage, divorce, and four children.
Wedding bells. Jim & Lita are married.
Poppy Marable is her maid of honor. "I think you can tell on one of the wedding pictures where she's just laughing and crying at the same time. She was really happy about being married."
Emory & Jo Ann McClinton (Georgia State Representative) (Lita's parents) dislike Jim Sullivan for his arrogance. He's a person who when confronted with inconvenient information lies. They're also concerned about how the interracial couple will be treated publicly and socially.
Jim & Lita Sullivan settle in Macon, Georgia where Jim had inherited Crown Beverage Inc, a liquor distributorship. Lita is employed at a department store.
Lita's parent's fears were proven true. Watermelons and garbage are dumped on Jim & Lita's lawn and doorstep.
A MOVE INTO SOCIETY CIRCLES
1983 - 7 years into the marriage. Jim Sullivan sells Crown Beverage for $5 million. He and Lita move to Palm Beach, Florida. Anthony "Tony" Harwood, driver for a moving company, delivers their furniture from Macon, GA. to Palm Beach, Fla.
Jim Sullivan becomes active in the social circles of Palm Beach. He finds Lita an inconvenience and begins attending events without her.
He's also cheap, even though the couple are wealthy.
Emory McClinton (Lita's father) "If he didn't bring home napkins from Wendy's, they didn't have napkins."
Lita Sullivan finds herself trapped in an unfulfilling marriage with an adulterous husband with numerous infidelities.
Jo Ann McClinton "When you find blond hair in your bed and Jim's hair was dark then, obviously, you know, very... in her own home."
Poppy Marable "Lita endured it because of her traditional upbringing. It was just assumed that you married. You're married forever. You may have some challenges but you work through them."
Jo Ann McClinton "It was known that he would pick up prostitutes and that was the last straw for Lita."
1985 - 8 1/2 years into the marriage, Lita (33) files for formal separation and divorce. She moves back to Atlanta. She engages in charity work, interacting with her family and friends and dating again.
1986 - November - Anthony Harwood delivers a piano to Jim Sullivan's home. Harwood spends about 2 hours with Sullivan.
Tony Harwood later testifies that Jim Sullivan said to him "You know I've got this wife of mine up in Atlanta and she is just trying to take everything I've got. And I don't know what to do about it. I need somebody to help me take care of my problem. Do you know anybody that can possibly take care of my problem for me? Because I need some help."
"At first I thought he was joking." Then he receives $12,500 from Sullivan.
Sullivan wants Lita murdered before Christmas.
Tony Harwood tells Belinda Trahan about the murder for hire scheme.
Belinda Trahan "He told me that some white guy wanted to take out his black wife because she was going to divorce him and he didn't want her to have anything." "I didn't believe him. I thought he was telling a whopper of a lie to cover up an affair with another woman."
Harwood tells her that the hit didn't go as planned becuase the woman "wouldn't answer the door."
Belinda Trahan "I said anyone knows that if you wanted to get a woman to answer the door all you would have to do is take flowers to the door."
1987 - January - Tony Harwood drives to Atlanta with two friends. They check into a Howard Johnson's motel and Harwood signs a registration card. One of the men goes to Lita Sullivan's home to kill her, but the plan goes awry.
Tony Harwood "Especially a woman ain't going to answer the door at 5:30 in the morning."
Robert "Bob" Christianson (Lita's neighbor & friend) receives a telephone call from Jim Sullivan.
Sullivan asks Bob "have you seen any unusual activity around Lita's house?" Bob thinks this is highly unusual because he rarely talks with Sullivan.
Three days later....
January 16, 1987 - Bob Christensen is outside that morning just after 8 a.m. He sees a man approach Lita's front door with a box of flowers. Bob, about fifteen feet away from the man, gets a good look at him.
Bob Christensen "Our eyes kind of locked. I was going to ask him, "What are you doing here?" And then I got a very bad feeling about the guy.
The man is Tony Harwood.
Photo: Anthony "Tony" Harwood
Lita Sullivan (35) has guests. Her best friend Poppy Marable and her 3 year old daughter have stayed over night in her home.
Photo: Lita McClinton Sullivan
A hearing in Lita's divorce from Jim Sullivan is scheduled today. The hearing will determine what assets will be allocated in the divorce.
The doorbell rings and Lita goes to answer the door.
Lita opens the door and she sees a man carrying a box of long stemmed pink roses. Harwood fires a bullet from 9mm gun hidden by the box. The bullet enters Lita's brain.
Photo: The box of roses Photo: The bloodstained foyer.
Harwood immediately flees to a waiting vehicle.
Poppy Marable "I heard the shots fired. My daughter was in the bed. I grabbed her out of the bed into the bathroom and then into the closet. I was afraid to come out. I didn't know if the person was in the house. I didn't know if the person was coming upstairs. I only came out when I heard police in the house."
"I asked if Lita was okay, if she was living. And he said barely. Because I knew she'd been shot. I didn't want to look."
Jo Ann McClinton "I just remember Poppy screaming, Lita's been shot! Lita's been shot!"
EMT's rush Lita to hospital.
Emory McClinton "Well, the doctor came out.."
Jo Ann McClinton "Immediately."
Emory McClinton "immediately and told us that there was really no hope."
40 Minutes after the shooting -Tony Harwood is already on his way out of Atlanta. Harwood stops at a truck stop outside of Atlanta and telephones Jim Sullivan. Harwood tells him "Merry Christmas."
Tony Harwood "His problem was supposed to be taken care of before Christmas."
Harwood tells Belinda Trahan "the job was done."
Palm Beach - Jim Sullivan is on the tennis court when he hears of Lita's murder.
He and his girlfriend Hyo-Sook "Suki" Choi Rogers (33) dine out that evening.
Detective Harris "Jim Sullivan was questioned several times. He didn't have any idea who'd might of want to harm his wife. I didn't see any evidence of any grief or anything."
Investigators find the records of calls before and after from the Howard Johnson's motel and the truck stop to Jim Sullivan's Palm Beach, Fla. home. They question Sullivan. He tells police "the murder was likely connected to a drug deal gone bad." He falsely suggests Lita used drugs.
Major. Harris: One thing is obvious. She was the target. Now the next thing to me would be who might have wanted her dead. The primary evidence at the scene, a bullet, two 9mm bullet casings, a bloody nightgown, an unopened box of roses." "She never got to open the box. The box had one single hole through the box. She might have even threw the box up to protect herself. Could have been just a reflex."
A local florist tells police about the man who purchased roses that morning. There was another man waiting in the car. Composit sketches are made based on the florist and Bob Christensen's descriptions.
Jo Ann McClinton "Emory called a friend of ours that was with the Atlanta police department and said, "This son of a bitch killed our daughter."
1987- February - Jim Sullivan telephones a friend in Georgia. During their conversation they speak of Lita's murder. Sullivan mentions "Lita had been murdered with a 9 mm weapon." That was information police had withheld from the public. Sullivan's conversation and statement is caught on police wiretaps.
1987 - September - 8 months after Lita's murder - Sullivan has been appointed to a prestigious seat on the Palm Beach Landmark Preservation Committee. He also marries Suki Rogers.
Photo: Jim & Suki Sullivan
ARREST FOR PERJURY
1990 - Police stop Jim Sullivan for a traffic violation. He also has an expired registration.
During his hearing at traffic court Suki Sullivan tells the court she was responsible for driving the vehicle, not Jim, that the officer made a mistake on the citation.
The Judge nails Sullivan with a sentence of 1 year house arrest for perjury. Suki Sullivan lied at her husband's request "he wanted to keep suspicion off him in light of the investigation into Lita Sullivan's death."
ARREST FOR WEAPONS POSSESSION
Jim Sullivan is arrested and sentenced to 1 1/2 year on house arrest. Officials had discovered four guns at his residence.
1990 - November - Suki Sullivan files for divorce. In their divorce hearing she tells the court that Jim Sullivan told her "he had planned and paid for Lita's murder, and she feared she would be next."
Hyo-Sook "Suki" Sullivan "I remember he says it's (Lita's murder) good for us. He doesn't have to divorce her." "He's complaining that he has to share with her,"
Jim Sullivan had sought to have the divorce proceedings in Florida, but the judge ruled it would be held in Atlanta.
Suki Sullivan "Because she's black, he says it's a big favor for her and her parents have lots of power."
1992 - January- Sullivan is still serving house arrest on weapons charge. He's also indicted for "violating interstate commerce laws by arranging Lita Sullivan's murder by phone."
Jim Sullivan is extradited from Palm Beach, Fla. to Atlanta, Ga.
Suki Sullivan testifies. Jim Sullivan's lawyers paint her as a gold digger.
Despite testimony and evidence, the judge dismisses the case due to lack of evidence.
FALL FROM SOCIETAL GRACE
The federal prosecutors may have been unable to punish Jim Sullivan, but the Palm Beach socity could, and did. Not only was he dismissed from the preservation society, but he was shunned and ostracized. Sullivan moves to Boynton Beach.
WRONGFUL DEATH SUIT
Jo Ann McClinton 'It was a goal that we could not allow him to kill our daughter and just walk the street."
1994 - Civil Court - Emory & Jo Ann McClinton file a wrongful death suit against Jim Sullivan.
The jury awards them $4 million. Sullivan claims he's broke but the family doesn't believe him.
1998 - April - Belinda Trahan tips off police about Tony Harwood. Harwood confesses and pleads Guilty to volutnary manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years in a plea deal. He agress to testify against Jim Sullivan.
Sullivan skips not only the town, but the country upon hearing of Harwood's arrest.
INDICTMENT FOR MURDER
James Sullivan is indicted with arranging the murder of Lita Sullivan and charged with 5 counts.
First degree murder, felony murder, burglary and 2 counts of aggravated assault for the two 9mm caliber rounds fired.
Retired Georgia Bureau of Investigation firearms exmainer Kelly Fite "Judging by the location of the two shell casings the shooter must have passed over the threshold of the house before firing the shots. One of the bullets passed through the box of pink long-stemmed roses that the gunman handed Lita Sullivan before hitting her in the head. Though the shot was ultimately fatal, Lita Sullivan survived nearly an hour before she died."
11 years after the murder - Police trace Sullivan to a flight to Costa Rica. Costa Rican authorities find Sullivan has again fled.
FBI'S MOST WANTED - JIM SULLIVAN
His face on a wanted poster in the U.S., Sullivan travels through Venezuela, Panama, Switzerland, Ireland, Cayman Islands, and Guatemala, always on the run.
2001 -September 25 -Unsolved Mysteries profiles Lita Sullivan's murder and shows James Sullivan's picture.
2002 - July 2 - A local citizen tips off Thai police. The citizen saw Sullivan on America's Most Wanted and had seen him locally. Thai police find Sullivan outside of Bangkok with his Thai wife in an exclusive resort. He is arrested for conspiracy to murder.
It is July 2, 2002 here in the U.S.
2004 - After cooling his hells for 19 months in a Thailand jail cell, Jim Sullivan is extradited to Atlanta, Georgia where he is indicted on further charges for murder, aggravated assault.
Jo Ann McClinton "We lost a daughter. And Jim deliberately had our daughter killed. Jim could not get away with this." "I am just pleased and happy...I did feel that as long as we pursued him there was always hope...We never gave up hope finding him."
The Florida Supreme Court reversed a prior ruling in the wrongful death suit against Sullivan while he was a fugitive. The McClinton's were awarded $4 million in damages.
Photo: Jim Sullivan
TRIAL & SENTENCING
In addition to the phone records and Harwood's confession, investigators presented Jim Sullivan's diaries. Sullivan had documented a meeting with Harwood. The diaries also documented his affair during his marriage to Lita. Also in evidence were financial documents that showed motive for Lita's murder.
2005 March 10 - Bibb County District Attorney Howard Simms orders Frank Bienert, (uncle of Jim Sullivan) exhumed after determining Bienert's death was suspicious, based on information stemming from James Sullivan's trial.
The Jury receives the case and begins deliberations. Less than 5 hours later, a verdict is reached.
2006 - March 13 - James V. Sullivan is convicted.
Jo Ann McClinton "I have looked forward to this day for many years. Should I forgive him? I cannot. Should I forgive him? I will not."
GUILTY OF MALICE MURDER
LIFE IN PRISON WITHOUT PAROLE
Photo: James V. Sullivan
Jo Ann McClinton "Time will not allow me to tell you what my family has gone through for past the 19 years," "I ask for justice for my daughter's killer. I have looked forward to this day for many
Photo: Emory & Jo Ann McClinton
Jo Ann McClinton "We've worked so hard to get him where he is. But there is no closure."
Emory McClinton "Because our daughter's gone."
Emory McClinton "We won the battle. He's not gonna make a mockery of the courts anymore. It's over, Jim. Merry Christmas."
Georgia Dept. of Corrections Photo
The Fulton County Administrator, as Administrator of the Estate of Lita McClinton Sulivan, Petitioner/Plaintiff, v. James Vincent Sullivan, Respondent/Defendant, 753 So. 2d 549 (1999)
Florida Supreme Court, (November 24, 1999)
Docket number: 87110
Permanent Link: http://vlex.com/vid/fulton-lita-mcclinton-sulivan-vincent-20846606
Id. vLex: VLEX-20846606
US Bankruptcy court northern district of georgia atlanta divisions
case number A04-76174-PWB In the matter of James Vincent Sullivan debtor
2008 - September 22 -
ATLANTA "Georgia's top court Monday upheld the murder conviction of a millionaire for hiring an assassin posing as a flower delivery man to kill his 35-year-old socialite wife. The Georgia Supreme Court's unanimous ruling rejected arguments for a new trial from attorneys representing James Sullivan, who is serving life in prison for paying a hit man $25,000 to gun down Lita Sullivan.
In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Harold Melton, the court rejected Sullivan's claims.
"This evidence was sufficient to enable the jury to determine that (the) defendant was guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt," he wrote."
Jo Ann McClinton "At some point, you feel this is over. You try to get past the point of it hurting every day."
Emory McClinton "Everybody knows he's guilty, but we continue this charade."
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