SAN DIEGO — A former U.S. Navy sailor who fatally stabbed his wife and hid her body in a freezer for two years before dumping her in San Diego Bay has been sentenced to prison.
Matthew Scott Sullivan, 36, was convicted last year of second-degree murder in the October 2014 death of 32-year-old Elizabeth Ricks Sullivan. He was sentenced Friday to 16 years to life in prison for the killing.
“The jury verdict and the evidence at trial made it clear that Matthew Sullivan brutally murdered his wife, methodically cleaned up the messy murder site, and then hid the body for years,” Superior Court Judge Albert Harutunian III said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “He almost got away with it, but his final attempt to hide the body at the bottom of the bay failed.”
Sullivan has denied killing his wife, whose body was found in the bay Oct. 4, 2016, almost two years to the day after she vanished from their home in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego. His defense claimed at trial that Elizabeth Sullivan used drugs, sometimes slept in a park near their home and had a habit of self-mutilation, or “cutting.”
The day her body was found, movers were at the couple’s home to move Matthew Sullivan, who was leaving the Navy, and the couple’s two children to the East Coast, the Union-Tribune reported. According to People magazine, he was moving with his daughters, his fiancée and their new baby.
Neighbor Brittany Garcia said those who knew Elizabeth Sullivan suspected that the body was hers as soon as it was found floating in a channel of the bay.
“We all knew it was her,” Garcia, who had joined the search efforts for her missing neighbor, told People. “The timing was interesting.”
Prosecutors argued last year that Sullivan had moved his wife’s body from the freezer to the bay to rid himself of the evidence before the move.
He was arrested Jan. 31, 2018, at his new home in Wyoming, Delaware.
In a November 2014 interview with People, Matthew Sullivan said he was “at the end of (his) rope” in the search for his missing wife.
“I’m running on fumes right now. I don’t know where to look,” Sullivan told the magazine. “I’m always looking around the neighborhood, trying to catch a glimpse of her. Even if I got a phone call saying she’s OK, it would put my mind at rest. But nothing at this point.”
Prosecutors argued last year that Matthew Sullivan knew exactly where his wife was the entire time.
Deputy District Attorney Jill Lindberg said that Matthew Sullivan beat and stabbed Elizabeth Sullivan to death in a bedroom of their home because she’d had an affair and was planning to leave him. The couple’s relationship had deteriorated to the point that they were sleeping on separate floors of their townhome.
Lindberg told jurors that Elizabeth Sullivan had signed herself up on a dating website and had begun dating a man, but had not told him she was married and had children. The newspaper reported that a friend of his, who spotted child safety seats in Elizabeth Sullivan’s car, called Child Protective Services out of fear she was leaving her children home alone.
The CPS investigation led to Matthew Sullivan learning of the affair, Lindberg said.
Authorities said Elizabeth Sullivan met with a divorce attorney Oct. 13, 2014, and planned to visit the lawyer’s office the following day. She never showed up.
She texted a friend in Virginia the night of Oct. 13. Elizabeth Sullivan was never seen or heard from again after that contact.
Her friend, Nathan Caracter, reported her missing the next day. That same day, Oct. 14, Matthew Sullivan bought carpet cleaner from a Home Depot store.
When her remains were found two years later, they contained evidence of the beating and stabbing, authorities said. An autopsy showed she had been stabbed at least five times, the knife nicking and breaking her ribs, and both her nose and jaw had been broken.
Investigators subsequently searched the townhouse more thoroughly and found blood evidence underneath the carpet in Elizabeth Sullivan’s bedroom, as well as a bloodstained knife hidden under some insulation in the attic, the Union-Tribune reported. Testing showed the blood belonged to Elizabeth Sullivan.
Lindberg argued last year that the slain woman’s body remained at the home, hidden inside a freezer in the garage, for two years as her family searched in vain and as her two young daughters were told she had left them.
The prosecutor said that the girls, then 4 and 2 years old, were in the next room as their mother was stabbed to death, according to ABC 10 in San Diego. She said the children were left to “twist in the wind and wonder what had happened to her.”
“He made her look like the person who had abandoned her family, when that was not the case and he knew it,” Lindberg said.
Sullivan’s attorney, Marcus DeBose, argued that the blood in Elizabeth Sullivan’s bedroom stemmed from a cutting incident following the CPS investigation, according to the Union-Tribune. Matthew Sullivan claimed that he’d found his wife bleeding after using a piece of a broken mirror to cut herself.
He said he’d doctored her arm and acquiesced when she asked him not to call 911.
DeBose also argued that she had likely hidden the knife in the attic to hide her practice of self-mutilation.
The defense attorney also argued that Elizabeth Sullivan had begun sleeping in a park near the bay. Two sheriff’s deputies found her sleeping there one day and, after her body was found, recognized her from photos in the news.
Matthew Sullivan, who spoke briefly at his sentencing hearing, spoke not of his wife but of the fact that some of his defense witnesses were not allowed to testify.
“I firmly believe their testimony would have changed the verdict in this trial,” he told the court, according to the Union-Tribune.
“There is clearly no remorse on the defendant’s part,” Lindberg said in response.