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Navy veteran found guilty of killing wife, dumping body in bay two years later

By PAULINE REPARD | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: March 14, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Matthew Sullivan stabbed his wife to death in 2014, hid her body for two years, then disposed of it in San Diego Bay where it was quickly found, a jury decided on Friday.

It took the panel of seven men and five women about a day and a half to reach a verdict, convicting the former Navy petty officer of second-degree murder and an allegation that he used a knife in the attack.

Sullivan, sitting by his attorney as the verdicts were read Friday in Superior Court, let out a deep sigh when the court clerk announced he had been found not guilty of first-degree, premeditated murder.

Then came the conviction for second-degree, which carries a potential sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

According to the prosecution, Sullivan killed his 32-year-old wife, Elizabeth, because she had an affair, was planning to file for divorce, threatened to take their children with her and cleaned out a joint bank account.

About 30 witnesses testified over about a 10-day period before the jury began deliberating late Wednesday afternoon. They let Judge Albert Harutunian III know around 10:30 a.m. Friday that they'd reached verdicts.

The judge set sentencing for April 13.

Deputy District Attorney Jill Lindberg had told the jury, in closing arguments, that by 2012, the Sullivans' two-year marriage was falling apart. They had moved to San Diego from Virginia and were in Navy housing at Liberty Station in Point Loma. Sullivan went on overseas deployments. His wife signed up on a dating website.

Her brief affair in 2014 ended when her boyfriend found out she was married and had two children. Sullivan's attorney, Marcus DuBose, told jurors that Elizabeth Sullivan was using methamphetamine and cocaine and staying out overnight at times.

The lawyer said his client needed help caring for their children, so he paid airline fare for his mother, her girlfriend and his sister to come to San Diego and move in. His wife, who didn't get along with his family, sought a lawyer's advice on getting a restraining order against them.

She saw the lawyer on Oct. 13, 2014, according to Lindbergh. That day Elizabeth Sullivan talked to her father and a good friend on the East Coast, ending by saying she planned to lock herself in her bedroom that night. It was the last time family and friends heard from her.

Lindbergh said Elizabeth Sullivan never returned to the attorney's office and never withdrew the money she'd siphoned into her own bank account.

A friend reported her missing, but San Diego police missing person's investigators found no sign of foul play when they searched the home and talked to the husband.

Two years passed and Sullivan left the Navy with plans to move to the East Coast with his new fiancee. On Oct. 4, 2016, the day movers came to the Liberty Station home, a man who was walking his dog found Elizabeth Sullivan's partly decomposed body in the bay.

It was less than a mile from the Sullivan home. By the time her remains were identified and an autopsy revealed she had been stabbed to death, Sullivan had moved.

Homicide investigators found a pool of her blood soaked into the bottom side of a carpet, the padding and wooden floor in her bedroom. Traces of her blood were on a knife tucked under the attic insulation. They realized that a small freezer seen in the garage in 2014 was no longer there. They also learned that the day after his wife disappeared, Sullivan bought carpet cleaner.

The defense attorney said Elizabeth Sullivan bled on her carpet after cutting herself with a shard from a broken mirror. Friends acknowledged she was known to cut herself during stress. DuBose also told jurors his client couldn't have hidden a decomposing corpse in the house for two years, unnoticed. He said prosecutors were speculating to suggest the body was kept in the freezer.

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