A woman whose estranged husband allegedly murdered her two years before her decomposing body was found in San Diego Bay called a friend the night before she was reported missing and said she was having an argument with her spouse in the bedroom where police believe she was stabbed to death, a homicide detective testified Thursday.
Now-retired San Diego Police Department Detective Kimberly Collier took the stand as a preliminary hearing got underway for Matthew Sullivan, a former Navy man charged with the murder of his 31-year-old wife, Elizabeth Sullivan.
The victim vanished from the couple’s Liberty Station home on Oct. 14, 2014. Her body was discovered on Oct. 4, 2016, in the water about a half-mile from the Sullivans’ home.
A subsequent search of the home revealed an “uncharacteristic” amount of belongings left behind, as well as blood discovered beneath the carpet of Elizabeth Sullivan’s bedroom, Collier said. Prosecutors also allege that a knife with the victim’s blood on it was found in the attic.
Collier testified that the phone call reported by the victim’s friend prompted the bedroom search. The couple were in the midst of a divorce and sleeping in separate bedrooms at the time, according to testimony.
Collier said Elizabeth phoned the friend on the night of Oct. 13, 2014, and told her that she was having an argument with the defendant and was “afraid of him.” The friend instructed Elizabeth to keep her bedroom door locked, Collier said.
Luminol, a chemical used to detect blood, “lit up” the area on the floor leading to a bathroom connected to the victim’s bedroom, Collier said, with a visible blood stain discovered when investigators peeled back the carpeting.
The 33-year-old defendant left the Navy and moved from California days after the body’s discovery, Collier testified.
Ramon Ceballos, an off-duty deputy U.S. marshal, testified that he found the victim’s clothed body while he was out walking his dog.
Dr. Othon Mena, a former San Diego County deputy medical examiner who helped conduct the victim’s autopsy, said the examiners found multiple “elliptical defects” on her ribs consistent with stab wounds, as well as fractures in her jaw and the left side of her nose.
Mena said decomposition made it difficult to narrow down the time of death, but said 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.
In a statement released around the time of her husband’s arrest, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan alleged that the victim — a mother of two young girls — was in an abusive relationship with her husband and said she was in the process of leaving him when she was killed.
Nathan Caracter, a friend of the victim, testified that though he never witnessed any incidents of abuse between the couple, he was aware that Elizabeth was unhappy and seeking a divorce.
The defendant was arrested last year at his home in Delaware and extradited to San Diego, where he’s being held in lieu of $2 million bail.
He faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted.
The preliminary hearing, which will determine if there is enough evidence to order him to stand trial, will resume Friday morning.
–City News Service