A jury Friday convicted a millionaire of murder for hiring a hit man to kill his socialite wife 19 years ago because he feared losing money and a Florida mansion in the couple’s divorce.
The jury of three men and nine women took a little more than four-and-a-half hours to find James Sullivan guilty of arranging the fatal shooting of Lita Sullivan, his 35-year-old second wife, on Jan. 16, 1987.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. A sentencing hearing will occur later.
The victim was shot to death on the doorstep of her Atlanta town house by a man carrying a dozen long-stemmed pink roses.
The murder occurred the same day a hearing was scheduled to discuss property distribution in the divorce.
Sullivan, 64, a Boston native who was once one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, was captured in Thailand in 2002, four years after taking off on an intercontinental run around the time he was indicted on state murder charges in 1998.
He was extradited to the United States in 2004 to face a second trial on charges stemming from the murder. Federal charges that accused him of interstate use of a telephone to set up the murder were thrown out at trial in 1992. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that double jeopardy did not prevent Sullivan from being tried again in state court.
Gunman admitted killing woman
Prosecutors said Sullivan paid Phillip Harwood, a trucker who once moved some furniture for him to Palm Beach, was paid $25,000 to kill his wife. Harwood, 55, of Albemarle, N.C., is serving a 20-year sentence for manslaughter after pleading guilty and admitting he killed Mrs. Sullivan, but on the stand Monday he denied being the triggerman.
In closing arguments Thursday, a prosecutor placed a doorbell in front of jurors to show how easy he said it was for the hit man to get the victim’s attention.
Clint Rucker rang the doorbell twice, then told jurors the evidence presented during two weeks of testimony that Sullivan arranged the murder was overwhelming.
But defense lawyer Ed Garland said in his closing argument that Harwood’s testimony was a mockery, and he noted all prosecutors presented was circumstantial evidence.
The trial started with jury selection on Jan. 5.