SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A Navy man murdered his estranged wife at their Liberty Station home, then hid her body for about two years before having to dump it in San Diego Bay, a prosecutor alleged Friday as opening statements and testimony began in the murder trial of Matthew Scott Sullivan.
A defense attorney claimed, however, that Elizabeth frequently disappeared without notice and that there was no evidence connecting his client to her demise.
Sullivan, 35, is accused in the stabbing death of the 31-year-old woman, who vanished the evening of Oct. 13, 2014.
Prosecutors allege Sullivan killed her at the couple’s San Diego home, then hid the body somewhere inside — possibly in a freezer — until he was compelled to discard her remains because movers arrived Oct. 4, 2016, at the onset of his cross-country move to the East Coast.
Her body was discovered that same day in the water about a half-mile from their residence. An autopsy revealed a series of injuries to her ribs consistent with stab wounds, as well as fractures in her jaw and the left side of her nose.
A former San Diego County deputy medical examiner who helped conduct the autopsy testified at a preliminary hearing last year that decomposition made it difficult to narrow down her time of death, but that he did not believe she had been in the bay for the two-year period she was missing, as the decomposition would have been more advanced.
Deputy District Attorney Jill Lindberg said the couple’s marriage deteriorated over financial issues and Elizabeth’s infidelity, and that she was planning on leaving Sullivan.
While Lindberg alleged Elizabeth never contacted anyone after Oct. 13 2014, Sullivan called police several times that night and alleged that his wife was likely going to call police to commit what he termed “abuse fraud,” or making false claims that Sullivan had been abusing her.
One of Elizabeth’s friends, who knew she was planning to leave Sullivan, couldn’t reach her and reported her missing. Sullivan did not report her disappearance, but Lindberg noted he did go to a store the morning of Oct. 14 to purchase a single item: carpet cleaner.
Investigators searched the home in 2014, when it was still a missing persons case, and found an unplugged, empty freezer in the garage, Lindberg said, but nothing that could lead to an arrest.
Upon reinvestigation in 2016, blood was found beneath the carpet of Elizabeth’s separate bedroom.
Lindberg also alleges that a knife with the victim’s blood on it was found in the attic.
Defense attorney Marcus DeBose argued that the presence of Elizabeth’s blood inside her bedroom and on the knife stemmed from self-inflicted cutting, due to a reported history of depression and self-harm.
He said that about a month before her disappearance, Sullivan had discovered his wife had cut herself with a broken mirror shard and bled heavily throughout her bedroom.
DeBose also said Elizabeth was a drug user and often went out with friends without informing Sullivan of her whereabouts. He said she grew tired of Sullivan’s frequent overseas deployments and in an effort to escape her unhappy marriage, abused drugs, self-harmed and used fake names while dating other men.
On the night of Oct. 13, 2014, DeBose alleged Elizabeth simply left the home and never returned.
“She didn’t say where she was going, but by this time, Matthew was used to this,” DeBose said.
The attorney said Sullivan called his wife’s phone several times in the days after Oct. 13 and was cooperative with investigators.
While Lindberg said Elizabeth never contacted friends or family again after Oct. 13, DeBose said Elizabeth’s former lover received an email about a month later from someone claiming to be Elizabeth. He said it included specific details that only Elizabeth and the man would know, but that email has since been deleted.
DeBose did not forward a theory of who killed her nor where she was during the two-year span before her body was discovered, but told the jury, “The evidence is not going to show you anything that is inconsistent with a cutter married to a Navy man who had a secret life, who had a history of behavior that was erratic.”
The defendant was arrested in 2018 at his home in Delaware and extradited to San Diego, where he’s being held on $2 million bail.