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48 Hours Millionaire Manhunt 10.07.06

Run Dates


10.07.06 H8 Hours Millionaire Manhunt

07.21.07 H8 Hours Millionaire Manhunt

Millionaire Manhunt
Wanted For Murder, A Man Evades Authorities For Nearly Two Decades

(Page 1 of 8)Oct. 7, 2006
Jim Sullivan (CBS)

(CBS) Lita McClinton was a beautiful young woman who caught the eye of a successful businessman. She soon would marry Jim Sullivan and lived an affluent lifestyle, but the marriage was less than perfect and fell apart nine years later.

On the same day a judge was supposed to rule whether Lita could try to make a claim against her husband's multimillion-dollar fortune, she was gunned down in her own home by someone delivering a box of roses.

As correspondent Susan Spencer reports, this tale of love, betrayal, wealth and, eventually, murder would lead to an international search for justice.


Understanding the remarkable saga of Lita Sullivan requires turning back the clock to 1975, to the days of disco, the first year of "Saturday Night Live" and of a new invention, the VCR.

In those days, Lita was still Lita McClinton, living the good life of an attractive single 23-year-old, the daughter of a prominent family in Atlanta.

"She was a very sweet person. She loved entertaining her family and friends," says Poppy Marable, who was perhaps Lita’s closest friend.

It was a close-knit family. Lita was the oldest child of JoAnn and Emory McClinton.

Lita was working in an upscale women’s boutique when one day Jim Sullivan walked in; Lita was enthralled. "Jim was quite charming initially," Poppy remembers. "Lita thought he was a nice person, and a gentleman."

Sullivan was a dashing businessman from Macon, Ga., who had inherited a business worth millions. He lavished attention on Lita.

"On first glance, he's a gentleman. He knows how to play the part. And he played the part very well. He wined her and he dined her," JoAnn McClinton recalls.

Lita fell in love with Jim, but her parents worried about how a biracial couple might fare in Macon. They also had concerns about a different side of Jim they were beginning to see.

"He's a pathological liar," Emory says.

A man prone, the McClintons say, to omit inconvenient information.

On the night before their wedding, JoAnn McClinton says Jim told Lita he had been married before and was the father of four children.

But the next day, Dec. 29, 1976, Lita McClinton became Lita Sullivan during a small family wedding.

The newlyweds settled in Macon; Sullivan seemed delighted but Marable began to worry. "I think Jim thought he had a Barbie doll with no brains," she explains. "I was a bit concerned. I didn’t like the way Jim spoke to Lita — sometimes it was in a belittling way."

Plus, says Marable, Sullivan was a cheapskate; he once scolded Lita for spending too much of his money on, of all things, Girl Scout cookies. "He was quite annoyed with her that day that she bought too many cookies," Marable remembers.

And then there were the affairs. Marable says she was aware that Sullivan was cheating on Lita.

Lita hoped he would change when the couple moved to ritzy Palm Beach, Fla., to an oceanfront mansion, named "Casa Eleda."

"But Jim continued his old ways," Marable says. "Throughout their marriage he was unfaithful."

Finally, in 1985, after nine years of trying to make the marriage work, Lita gave up, filed for divorce, packed up the Mercedes and moved into an Atlanta townhouse the couple had purchased.

"She had planned this divorce. She didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I’m divorcing Jim Sullivan.’ She made sure she had copies of his important papers," Marable says.


Oct. 7, 2006
Jim Sullivan (CBS)

Before long, Sullivan had a new woman in his life, a local socialite named Suki Rogers, and Lita was getting ready for a rough court fight.

"She knew he was gonna play dirty. He had played dirty their entire relationship," says Assistant District Attorney Sheila Ross.

In January 1987, financially, everything was coming to a head. "So time is runnin’ out for this man. It really is runnin’ out," Ross says.

An Atlanta judge was due to decide if Lita could challenge an agreement they had made about dividing Sullivan’s roughly $8 million fortune. If Lita lost, Ross says, she would have gotten around $200,000 total. But if Lita won, "Then she could get anywhere from zero to all of his estate."

On the very day the judge was to make his ruling, Lita's good friend Bob Christenson — who knew all about her troubled marriage — noticed a stranger in the courtyard near Lita’s front door. The man was carrying a box of flowers.

So Christenson turned and went back into his garage. Seconds later he heard shots. The second he heard the shots, Christenson immediately thought of Jim Sullivan.

"I thought, that son of a b--- had it done," he says. "There was no other earthly reason for something like that."

Christenson rushed outside, saw the shooter run off and raced to Lita's side. She had been shot in the head. A dozen long-stemmed pink roses lay nearby, still in their box.

Lita's parents say they knew who had done it, suspecting Jim. They believe their daughter was murdered over money.

But Sullivan had an alibi. When Lita was shot, he was 600 miles away in Palm Beach.

Despite that, police started taking a hard look at Sullivan. Suppose, investigators wondered, he had hired a hit man to do his dirty work. With no murder weapon, they were left with just one real clue: a suspicious phone call to Sullivan — made just 40 minutes after Lita was shot.

The call came from a rest stop — coincidentally about a 40-minute drive from Lita’s home. The theory: the hit man called Sullivan to tell him the deed was done.

Emory McClinton thought Sullivan was going to be arrested, but the call wasn’t enough proof. Not only was Sullivan not arrested, within months he’d married Rogers.

Lita's parents were appalled. "He’s taken something that he had no right to take, and we are here to see to it that he’s going to pay for this deed," JoAnn says.

Sullivan’s carefree life in Palm Beach seemed unaffected by Lita’s death. He soon divorced Rogers, his third wife, and began taking up with other women — lots of other women.

"He exhibits this pattern of targeting women, finding women and pursuing them aggressively and insistently and just not taking no for an answer," Ross says.


(Page 3 of 8)Oct. 7, 2006
Jim Sullivan (CBS)

But analyzing Sullivan’s social life didn’t get authorities any closer to proving their theory that he had hired a hit man to kill Lita. They just didn’t have enough evidence to charge him with murder. In 1991, five years after Lita’s murder, her frustrated family sued him, eventually winning a $4 million judgment.

They didn’t see a dime of it; Sullivan had long since stashed his millions safely offshore and out of reach, as was he living the good life in Costa Rica.

The files accumulated and the years passed. But in 1998, 11 years after the murder, in a small town in rural Texas, fate intervened in the person of one Belinda Trahan.

Trahan worked as a receptionist for lawyer Ed Lieck, and out of the blue one day, told him she needed to speak with him — urgently

Her tale began in back in the late ‘80s, when she was living in North Carolina with a man named Tony Harwood, a mover for North American Van Lines.

"We were together about three years, off and on," Belinda says.

She said she would never forget the bizarre story he told her after an overnight run to Palm Beach.

"He was like, ‘Well, there’s this rich white man that wants to have his black wife taken care of,'" Belinda recalls.

But Harwood loved to brag, and Belinda says she never believed his story.

Harwood insisted his story was true, explaining that there were other people in on the job, too and that it would come off the next time he went to Georgia.

Trahan was still incredulous.

But Harwood came back, disappointed, saying the intended victim hadn’t cooperated, refused to answer the door — whereupon Trahan joked that if you want a woman to come to the door, take her flowers.

"I wish I’d never said that," she says in hindsight.

Because that’s exactly what happened. When Harwood returned from a second trip to Atlanta, he said the job was done.

But Trahan still didn't believe her boyfriend.

By now, Harwood was determined to prove he wasn’t making it up, telling Trahan to get in the car. He drove overnight, to a roadside diner. She has no idea what it was called or even what state it was in, but she remembers clearly what happened there.

"This guy comes in. He looked right at me and then he looked over at Harwood and he says, 'What is she doing here?’" Trahan recalls.

Then the man pushed a newspaper across the table, and Trahan says Harwood pulled the newspaper towards himself.

It wasn’t until they were back in the car that Trahan realized the newspaper had an envelope in it with lots of money. In fact, it had half of what Harwood said was the $25,000 payoff for the murder of Lita Sullivan.

Now, finally, Trahan believed him. She split, moving to Texas to start over. She eventually got married.

But Harwood never let her forget what she knew or what would happen if she told. "Yeah. He threatened me pretty much the whole time," she says.

Oct. 7, 2006
Jim Sullivan (CBS)

For 11 years, it worked. Trahan kept her mouth shut. But by January 1998, she had had it with the threats and finally challenged him. "I said, ‘Did you kill that woman or what?’ And he says, 'I don’t wanna discuss that right now,'" she remembers.

That’s when Trahan decided to go to the cops. But her boss, the lawyer, knew they would have two big questions: Why had she kept silent so long, and was she also involved, since she had suggested those flowers?

But in the end, the authorities were so blown away by her story they agreed that in return for her testimony, they would not press charges.

"She provided details that only someone that was associated with the crime would know," says Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent John Lang, now retired, who got the case.

His question: After so long, could she still identify the man who had paid Harwood off? He showed her a photo array.

Initially, she pointed at a photo of Sullivan, telling Lang she was 40 percent sure it was the man from the diner.

But after a few minutes, she again pointed right to the picture of Sullivan and told Lang she was 100 percent sure.

Once he had her positive ID, Lang set out to verify the rest of Trahan's story.

"We went to North American Van Lines and just by the grace of God, were able to find, in an attic, these records that had not been purged," Lang remembers. "The first box I opened was the moving invoice with James Sullivan’s signature on it, Tony Harwood’s signature on it."

It was a huge breakthrough — the first hard evidence linking Harwood and Jim Sullivan in the months before Lita Sullivan was killed.

"Belinda is the only person that saw these two men together, and she’s the only person that saw the exchange of money. It was crucial," explains Lieck.

But was it enough to nail Jim Sullivan?

Today, Belinda and her husband Tim Trahan share a picture-perfect life in rural Texas, a far cry from 1998, when Belinda feared for her life, and literally went underground.

For about four months, she retreated in fear into a crawl space barely four feet big, living deep under her house with a TV, a bed and a loaded .357 magnum.

She was hiding in terror from Harwood and Jim Sullivan.

"I felt that if he paid $25,000 to kill his wife, what’s $100,000 to kill the eyewitness that could put him away for life?" Tim Trahan says.

In the 11 years since Lita’s murder, Jim Sullivan had been a free man and, even with Belinda's story, police still didn’t have enough solid evidence to charge him. They hoped Harwood would provide more, so they told Belinda to call him and get him talking.

Asked why he didn't just turn Sullivan in, Harwood told her during the recorded conversation, "I thought about that, too, but, see, all he can do is testify that I was the one."

Especially incriminating was Harwood’s answer when Belinda recalls that, at first, she didn’t believe him.

"I didn’t never figure it was really real, you know that," Belinda said.

"Oh yeah, it was real, I live it every day," Harwood replied. "Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night, thinking about it."

The next day, Lang knocked on Harwood’s door.

"Tony came out," Lang recalls, "and got in the front seat of the car, and he said 'I've been waiting for you boys for a long time.'"

Oct. 7, 2006
Jim Sullivan (CBS)

To Lang’s delight, Harwood couldn’t shut up. "And he immediately started telling us about it. He mentioned Sullivan's name first. I didn't mention his name. I said 'We ‘wanna talk to you about an incident in 1987 involving the murder of somebody.' And he said 'You're talking about that Sullivan guy.'"

"I said, 'Well, you know, I know somebody who can probably take care of that for you,'" Harwood told police in a videotaped interview. "And he said, 'Well, about how much would it cost?' and I told him '$25,000.'"

Lieck, Belinda Trahan's boss, assumed that with Harwood providing the missing link, police now would arrest Sullivan for his wife’s murder.

"I turned around the I told the gentlemen from the GBI or the Atlanta Police Department, 'Go get him,'" Lieck recalls. "And they said 'Well, now we’ve gotta deal with his defense attorneys they’re gonna bring him in.' I said ‘Son. This wouldn’t happen in southeast Texas.'"

The Atlanta District Attorney didn’t know where Sullivan was, but issued a warrant for his arrest. After issuing the warrant, D.A. Paul Howard privately told Sullivan’s attorneys he’d be going for the death penalty.

But with unlimited resources, Lieck says, a guy is going to run.

In fact, Sullivan had been sunning himself for some time in a lovely Costa Rican seaside community, 1,600 miles away.

And, within a day of his attorneys learning about the death penalty, he hot-footed it to Panama, in a very big hurry.

"He was out of Costa Rica. He left his dog, I mean you know here’s a person who professes to love his dog Coco and he leaves it with a neighbor there, OK," Lang says.

But Sullivan’s disappearance didn’t affect the case against Harwood, the alleged hit man. He eventually cut a deal, pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter, but always insisting that he was not the actual shooter.

Who was? Over the years, Harwood has blamed the Mafia, a stripper named Tracey and some guy nick-named "John the Bartender."

Despite his changing stories, prosecutors agreed to a 20-year prison sentence for Harwood, in exchange for his future testimony, whenever Sullivan would eventually face trial for murder for hire.

Sullivan, meanwhile, was moving — said to have been seen in exotic locales including Guatemala, Venezuela, Ireland, and even Malaysia — and finally in an idyllic beach resort, 100 miles south of Bangkok, Thailand.

Bob Cahill, then the FBI’s legal attaché in Bangkok, says tips from local viewers of the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” led right to Sullivan’s hideout.

With both his name and that of his new, fourth wife, Nana, right on the door, local authorities put him under surveillance. In July 2002, four years after Harwood’s arrest they moved in.

Oct. 7, 2006
Jim Sullivan (CBS)

Sullivan's new home became a squalid, overcrowded Bangkok prison. Back in Atlanta, Lita’s parents couldn’t have been more pleased.

"Jolly good," says Emory McClinton, describing his mood.

"We both had a very good cry," JoAnn McClinton adds.

Sullivan was in no hurry to come home. He fought extradition fiercely, but two years later, Thailand’s highest court rejected his last appeal.

In 2004, nearly two decades after Lita’s murder — and showing the effects of his long stay in prison — Sullivan was returned to waiting prosecutors in Atlanta, the city where it all began.

Lita's parents had prayed for this moment: Jim Sullivan on trial for their daughter’s murder, with the possibility of getting the death penalty if convicted.

"Jim Sullivan killed his wife and we ask that you find him guilty and end 19 years of waiting," Ross tells the jury in previewing her case.

But Sullivan’s lawyers weren’t impressed. "There will not be a shred of physical evidence that links Jim Sullivan to this crime," says attorney Don Samuel.

The defense scoffed at the prosecution's star witnesses, painting Harwood as a con artist and Belinda, as a dupe.

First on the stand for the state is JoAnn McClinton, who tells prosecutor Kelly Hill that Sullivan never even went to Lita’s funeral or sent a sympathy card.

"We never heard from him," JoAnn says.

His only communication was a telegram to the funeral home, giving permission to cremate Lita.

Sullivan listens, expressionless through all this, even when the state presents its most damning evidence: phone records of calls to and from his Florida home, conversations with the alleged hit man, Harwood.

The most important call: one Harwood made from a pay phone a 40 minute drive from Lita’s house, 40 minutes after she was shot.

"Jim Sullivan doesn't have a clue what these phone calls were 19 years ago. He's simply not able to say, 'Oh, I remember making a phone call 19 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday,'" argues Samuel.

But Belinda clearly remembers her own unwitting role in Lita’s death, and she tells the jury of that casual remark she made to her then-boyfriend Harwood about bringing flowers to get a woman to open the door.

Prosecutors set up a mock diner, and Belinda re-enacts Sullivan’s payoff to Harwood in a newspaper stuffed with cash.

For 11 years, she says, she was too afraid of Harwood to speak out, until finally she decided she couldn't live like this anymore.

Asked by the prosecution to identify the man she saw at the restaurant, Belinda points at Jim Sullivan.

But Sullivan’s other lawyer, Ed Garland, challenges Belinda’s memory.

"Things fade out from your memory, don't they? Is the answer yes?" Garland asks.

"Yes, they do," she acknowledges.

Garland also ridicules her story of the payoff.

"Did you tell those police officers that after you made this trip on the road you don't know where, to the state you don't know where, leaving when you don't know when you left and returning, when you don't know when you arrived, that you left the next morning. Did you make that statement to them?" Garland asks.

"If it’s in the papers, I guess I did say it," she replies.

But Belinda insists to the end she met Sullivan and saw the payoff at the table in the diner. "But I know what I saw. And you can't take that from me, no matter what you do!" she says on the stand.

"That anybody, anybody could remember someone who they said they saw, you know, for just a sec, she, as she put it in her notes, for just a second, years and years and years earlier. I found the whole notion of her identification testimony lacked credibility," says Samuel.

But her credibility is stellar compared to that of the state’s other star witness, Harwood, who cut a deal and already is serving time for his role in Lita’s murder.


Oct. 7, 2006
Jim Sullivan (CBS)

The first problem is that his version of the payoff differs from Belinda’s: he says he got the cash in the men’s room.

"Mr. Sullivan and I went into the restroom and he handed me the money. The other half of the $25,000," he testifies.

He said it was on a moving job in 1986, that Sullivan asked him to “take care of Lita.” Harwood says he assumed that meant to kill her.

And how, exactly, had Sullivan put it?

"'You know I've got this wife o' mine up in Atlanta and she is just tryin' to take everything I've got. And I don't know what to do about it. I need someone to take care o' my problem. Do you know anybody that possibly take care of my problem for me 'cause I need some help here?' That's about the best I can do from what I remember," Harwood testifies.

More than his testimony adds to the impression that Harwood is an odd duck —
inexplicably, he returns from one break with his hair parted on the opposite side. First it was parted left, then to the right, after the break.

But prosecutors have bigger problems with Harwood than his hair — they have to acknowledge that he may be lying when he says he doesn’t know who actually shot Lita.

On the stand, Harwood says he did not murder Lita, but prosecutors want the jury to believe him when he insists Sullivan was behind it all.

"First of all, I didn't agree to kill his wife. What I agreed to do was to find someone to do it," Harwood testifies.

Defense lawyers emphasize their contempt for Harwood by not to even bothering with a cross examination, rolling the dice that the jury will find this “star witness” simply not believable.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Clint Rucker pulls out all the stops.

"The doorbell rings loud. It rings clearly. And in this case, it rings true," Rucker tells jurors.

He reminds the jury that this case is about a young woman who opened her door simply for a box of roses. "It’s the last thing she touched. And she used it as a shield to try to block the path of the bullet," Rucker says.

But defense lawyers insist there’s no proof Sullivan had anything to do with it. Garland mocks Belinda’s story, saying that was one big payoff for one small envelope — that the amount of cash wouldn't have fit inside.

Sullivan never takes the stand. The jury is left with reams of circumstantial evidence and two very unusual witnesses: Tony Harwood and Belinda Trahan.

Will the words of a convicted felon and his remorseful ex-girlfriend be enough to convict?

At long last, a jury has Jim Sullivan’s fate in its hands and the prosecutors, too, are more than ready for a verdict.

"This is the reason why there is no statue of limitations on murder. Murder will always go punished," says Ross.

But defense attorney Samuel thinks he’s poked major holes in the prosecution’s case. "I firmly believe the state doesn't have sufficient evidence to find him guilty. There is plenty of evidence out there that we can't explain. And it certainly seems suspicious. But I don't believe the evidence is sufficient to warrant a conviction," he explains.


Oct. 7, 2006
Jim Sullivan (CBS)

The jury’s verdict comes back in less than five hours, finding Jim Sullivan guilty of malice murder.

It’s a bittersweet moment for the McClintons — and a sweet one for the prosecution.

"There's no way to describe what it felt like to look at them. I looked over my shoulder and locked eyes with them. And it was the best feeling in the world," says Ross.

Not, of course, for Samuel, who thinks the jury just couldn’t get past those damning phone calls. "You have these series of phone calls that are absolutely inexplicable. I’ve never been able to describe these phone calls to anybody and have them think anything other than, ‘He must be guilty,’" he says.

The sentence is still to be decided for Sullivan: life or death.

"If there was something else I could do to Jim or the state could do to Jim that would be worse than the death penalty, I would go for that.

Lita’s family is allowed to testify to the suffering Sullivan has caused.

"I have looked forward to this day for many years. Should I forgive him? I cannot. Should I forgive him? I will not," JoAnn McClinton says on the stand.

No one from Sullivan's own family steps forward to defend him. He has been estranged from his four children for years.

Sullivan's eldest son, James, can hardly contain his contempt. "He is my father. But he's not my dad, he tells 48 Hours. "He's not a human, he doesn't have a human relationship."

Asked if there's something about this person that's inherently evil, James says, "Yes."

Sullivan’s brother Frank definitely agrees. The best man at Jim’s first wedding, he’s not in his corner today. "My brother has this raw, numbing evil that very few people in society get, fortunately, they have to confront – and I've met this kind of evil in him," he says.

Before the sentencing, Jim Sullivan was offered a chance to say something. He declined.

The jurors did not give him death penalty, instead imposing a sentence of life in prison without parole. Without a successful appeal, Jim Sullivan certainly will die in prison.

Prosecutors give Belinda Trahan a lot of credit for the verdict. She says she has no regrets about stepping forward. "There was justice served. And the McClintons finally got their justice. They’re wonderful people," she says.

Asked what they said to her, Belinda says, "They said ‘Thank you’ and gave me a hug. They’re just really great people.'"

It was a long journey to justice, this quest for a one-time dashing millionaire undone, finally, at age 64 by his own greed.

"He's taken something that we can't ever get back. There is no closure when you've lost a child," says JoAnn McClinton. "You can live with it better, but there is no closure."








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