Originally created 01/03/06

Former fugitive will go on trial



ATLANTA - The case has it all - money, power, an international manhunt and a hit by a killer carrying a gun along with a dozen long-stemmed pink roses.

The defendant is a millionaire businessman who faces the death penalty if convicted. The victim was an Atlanta socialite whose mother is a state lawmaker.

Nearly 19 years after Lita Sullivan was fatally shot on the doorstep of her townhouse in the city's Buckhead neighborhood, her husband, James Sullivan, once one of the FBI's "Most Wanted" fugitives, will go on trial for murder Thursday in a Fulton County courtroom.

Related charges were thrown out at a federal trial in 1992, but the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that double jeopardy does not prevent Mr. Sullivan, 64, from being tried again in state court. Mr. Sullivan has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors allege Mr. Sullivan paid Phillip A. "Tony" Harwood $25,000 to kill his wife because he feared losing money and his Palm Beach, Fla., mansion in the couple's divorce. Mr. Harwood, of Albemarle, N.C., is serving a 20-year sentence for manslaughter, but in court papers filed after his guilty plea he claimed he was innocent.

"I don't think our hopes are any different than what they were on day one, and that is that we find the person who did this, and we believe that is Mr. Sullivan," said the victim's father, Emory McClinton.

It's been a long road to this point for Mr. McClinton and his wife, state Rep. Jo Ann McClinton.

Their 35-year-old daughter was shot in the head Jan. 16, 1987, by a gunman posing as a flower delivery man. Police have said the killer and possibly two other men bought the roses at a florist minutes before the shooting.

Prosecutors have relied mostly on circumstantial evidence, including Mr. Harwood's confession, long-distance telephone calls they say Mr. Sullivan made setting up the murder and the testimony of a Beaumont, Texas, woman who says she was present at a restaurant when Mr. Sullivan allegedly paid off Mr. Harwood.

Prosecutors did not know about Mr. Harwood when Mr. Sullivan was first tried in federal court, but learned about him several years later when a new lead surfaced, presumably the statement of the Texas woman, who was Mr. Harwood's girlfriend at the time.

Mr. Harwood, a truck driver who moved Mr. Sullivan's furniture from Georgia to Florida, later agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge and testify against Mr. Sullivan.

Around the time Mr. Sullivan was indicted on state murder charges in 1998, he fled the country.

In 2002, Mr. Sullivan was captured in Thailand, where he had married a local woman and bought a condominium. He was extradited to the United States two years later. Authorities believe Mr. Sullivan had spent time in Costa Rica while on the run.

His lead attorney, Don Samuel, said police have charged the wrong man.

"I can't wait to once again prove him innocent," said Mr. Samuel, who won a judge's dismissal of the federal charges.

He said prosecutors have very little new evidence since the 1992 trial.