Originally created 09/30/03

Victim's parents hopeful for trial in socialite killing case



ATLANTA -- Sixteen years after socialite Lita Sullivan was shot dead by a man posing as a flower delivery man, her parents are still waiting for her killer to be brought to justice.

Prosecutors now say they expect the man they believe responsible for her death, Sullivan's husband, James Vincent Sullivan, to be brought to the United States by the end of the year to stand trial.

James Sullivan, 62, was arrested 15 months ago living a lavish lifestyle at a beach resort in Thailand.

He has denied involvement in his wife's death.

Prosecutors say the Boston native - who came to Georgia in the 1970s to manage a liquor distributorship he later inherited - left the country in 1998 around the time he was indicted on murder charges.

They say Sullivan headed first to Costa Rica and then to Thailand, where he obtained a residence visa.

The multimillionaire has fought extradition to the United States and is being held in a Thai jail.

"The Justice Department assures us that everything is going OK, and that things are going to work out," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said this week.

The U.S. Embassy expects a ruling on Sullivan's extradition by the Thai Supreme Court by the end of the year, he said.

Howard has said he will seek the death penalty.

Emory and JoAnn McClinton say that while nothing will bring their daughter back, seeing her killer brought to justice would at least be some resolution.

But as much as they'd like to believe a trial will take place, they have doubts.

"We'll be concerned until we can see his face on this continent, in a courtroom," said Emory McClinton, a former federal highway official and member of the Georgia Board of Transportation. "We've been after him all these years, and he's been able to avoid justice."

Sullivan was indicted on contract murder charges in 1998, but left the country after his lawyers assured the court he would turn himself in.

Eleven years ago, he was prosecuted in absentia in U.S. District Court, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

When and if a new trial is held, prosecutors could call Phillip Anthony "Tony" Harwood, 53, - a truck driver who moved James Sullivan's furniture from Macon to Palm Beach, Fla., where the couple had a home.

Prosecutors say Sullivan hired Harwood for $25,000 to take a box of roses to his wife's home and kill her on Jan. 16, 1987, hours before the couple was to appear at a hearing to settle assets in their bitterly contested divorce.

A neighbor of the couple in Palm Beach said there was friction because some in the upscale community didn't approve of Lita Sullivan, who was black

An attorney for the McClintons says Sullivan feared losing the couple's $3.9 million Palm Beach mansion and his wealthy lifestyle.

Harwood was arrested in 1998 and is serving a 20-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.