Lita McClinton Sullivan

Contract killer who murdered beautiful Atlanta socialite released from prison

The man who shot and killed an Atlanta-area socialite in a murder-for-hire plot more than three decades ago has been freed after serving a 20-year prison sentence.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Phillip Anthony Harwood was released from Coastal State Prison on Friday.

Harwood pleaded guilty in 2003 to killing 35-year-old socialite Lita McClinton Sullivan in January 1987. As part of the plea deal, Harwood was able to escape the possibility of a death sentence by testifying against Sullivan’s husband, millionaire James Sullivan.

James Sullivan, now 77, is serving a life sentence for murder at Macon State Prison. Investigators say James Sullivan paid Harwood $25,000 to kill Lita while the two were in the midst of a contentious divorce.

James Sullivan reportedly was afraid that he would lose a significant amount of money and property the couple had jointly owned, including a $4 million mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. On the day of a court hearing to distribute property in the divorce case, Harwood showed up at Lita’s doorstep carrying roses, rang the doorbell and then shot her.

The high-profile murder languished unsolved for almost 12 years until investigators received a tip that broke open the case, resulting in the indictment of James Sullivan in 1998. Prosecutors have notified Lita’s family about Harwood’s release, according to Channel 2 Action News, citing the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.

Authorities captured Sullivan in Thailand in 2002 – at the time as one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives – after fleeing the United States four years earlier when he was indicted for murdering Lita, according to the Associated Press. He was extradited back to Georgia in 2004.

Harwood is a former truck driver who at one time moved furniture for Sullivan.

[Feature Photo: Lita McClinton Sullivan/Handout]