Triggerman in socialite Lita Sullivan’s murder released from prison

The man convicted of being the triggerman in the 1987 murder of Buckhead socialite Lita McClinton Sullivan is free.

Phillip Anthony “Tony” Harwood was released Friday from Coastal State Prison, after serving a 20-year prison sentence, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections website.

A former truck driver, Harwood in 2003 avoided a possible death sentence by pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and agreeing to testify against Sullivan’s husband, Palm Beach, Fla., millionaire James Vincent Sullivan. As part of his sentence, Harwood was given credit for four years served in county jail after his April 1998 arrest.

James Vincent Sullivan, 77, was convicted of murder in the case, and is serving life without the possibility of parole at Macon State Prison.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Harwood’s release from prison to Channel 2 Action News, and said prosecutors had notified Lita Sullivan’s family.

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The headline-grabbing Sullivan murder case was one of the most highly publicized of its time. But the investigation stalled for nearly 12 years, until a tip led investigators to Harwood.

James Sullivan was indicted in 1998, shortly after Harwood’s arrest.

James Sullivan during his murder trial in the Fulton County Justice Tower in March 2006. He was found guilty of having his wife, Lita McClinton Sullivan, murdered by a contract killer in 1987. AJC FILE 2006

Prosecutors say Sullivan paid Harwood $25,000 for the murder, because he feared losing money and property in a bitter divorce — including a $4 million Palm Beach mansion. Harwood shot Lita McClinton Sullivan just inside her front door, after ringing the bell with a dozen roses in his hand.

The murder happened the same day a hearing was scheduled to discuss property distribution in the Sullivans’ divorce.

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