Murder Trial

Verdict Reached in Murder Trial for Ex-Navy Man Accused of Killing Wife

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A jury found a former U.S. Navy service member guilty of murdering his wife, in a case that began when her body was discovered on the edge of the San Diego Bay in 2016.

Matthew Sullivan, now 35, was found not guilty of first-degree murder but was convicted of second-degree murder after stabbing his 32-year-old wife, Elizabeth Sullivan, to death.. Her body was found years after her disappearance about a half-mile from the home the couple shared with their two young daughters.

Matthew Sullivan's sentencing was scheduled for April 13. He is being held without bail.

The first day of the murder trial began on Friday, Feb. 21 with opening statements and testimony from the loved ones of Elizabeth Sullivan.

In court, Matthew Sullivan sat silently, looking down at the desk in front of him as Deputy Defense Attorney Jill Lindberg described how a "whirlwind romance" quickly turned to domestic violence and eventually a slaying.

A potential motive, according to prosecutors during opening statements, was an extra-marital affair Matthew Sullivan was made aware of about a month before his wife's disappearance.

"He had lots of motives, he had the means, he had the opportunity," Lindberg said. "The crime scene was in her bedroom. The murder weapon was in the attic over his bedroom."

At the start of the trial, Lindberg showed jurors the knife that she argues Matthew Sullivan used to stab his wife at least five times, striking several ribs and leaving a pool of blood on the floor of her third-floor bedroom.

Defense attorney Marcus Dubose, on the other hand, painted the defendant as a man attempting to hold on to a wife that was pulling away, turning towards a self-destructive lifestyle. He argued that blood found in Elizabeth Sullivan's bedroom was from a wound that the Navy wife inflicted on herself during a tumultuous time in the couple's lives.

According to police reports obtained by NBC 7, there was a history of domestic violence in the couple’s marriage and they had been arguing over custody of their two young daughters and child support.

Elizabeth was reported missing on Oct. 14, 2014. She was last seen one day earlier near San Diego’s Liberty Station. A text message sent on Oct. 13, 2014, was the last contact Elizabeth had with loved ones before her phone was turned off.

Police searched for the missing Navy wife and mother of two for two years, to no avail. The mysterious case grew cold as her family pleaded for her safe return.

But a break in the case came on Oct. 6, 2016 when her body was found; it was the same day Matthew Sullivan was moving from San Diego to Maryland with his new girlfriend -- a fact Lindberg says was no coincidence.

Due to severe deterioration, it would be another week until San Diego police could identify her body, and another year-and-a-half until San Diego police could link Matthew Sullivan to her death.

The District Attorney's Office believes Elizabeth Sullivan's body had been “hidden somewhere” before it was disposed of in the bay. 

The former Navy man was taken into custody on Jan. 31, 2018. About a week later he was extradited to San Diego and was booked into the George Bailey Detention Facility, where he remained until he could face a first-degree murder charge.

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