Mother of slain Marfa ISD teacher awarded $7 million in damages

ODESSA — Theresa Blain, the mother of slain Marfa ISD teacher Sophia Sullivan, has been awarded $7 million in damages to be paid by her daughter’s alleged killer — the final judgment in a wrongful death suit filed by Blain three years ago.

The 2019 murder trial of Sophia Sullivan — which saw husband Daniel Sullivan accused of her stabbing death in Fort Davis — ended in a hung jury and has never been retried, with District Attorney Ori White blaming a “backlog of cases” stemming from pandemic-related delays. Daniel Sullivan, in the meantime, was released on bond and has been living in Illinois.

But after the mistrial, Blain decided to pursue justice through the civil courts — she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Daniel in 2020, arguing that he had intentionally caused the death of her daughter. In March of this year, an Ector County court ruled in her favor, stating that Daniel Sullivan had caused Sophia’s death and is liable under the Texas Wrongful Death Act.

A bench trial date to determine the damages was set for May 4 — Daniel, who is representing himself, failed to appear altogether. The court ruled on May 9 that Daniel owes Blain $7 million in damages, to compound annually at an interest rate of 5%, plus attorney’s fees and expenses to the tune of $19,019.12. If Daniel appeals the court’s ruling and is unsuccessful, he must pay Blain for those legal expenses as well.

The shocking 2018 killing yielded a heated two-week trial that ended inconclusively. The prosecution leaned on the testimony of the Sullivans’ young son, the sole witness of the murder, who identified his father as the killer to authorities, to a neighbor, and on the witness stand. The team also presented testimonies from neighbors, friends and law enforcement, and extensive text message records revealing marital tension. The defense, however, argued that authorities had improperly questioned the child. 

Ultimately, jurors remained deadlocked after 17 hours of deliberation, and Judge Roy Ferguson declared a mistrial. 

In her 2020 complaint to the 161st District Court, Blain made the case that Daniel Sullivan was responsible for her daughter’s death. At the time of the murder, the complaint stated, “divorce was imminent,” and Sophia was researching legal avenues for gaining sole custody of her son and moving into teacher housing in Marfa. If Sophia had divorced Daniel, per the complaint, Daniel would have been removed as the beneficiary of her $150,000 life insurance policy, which he attempted to collect on the day of his arrest. 

Blain’s counsel had sought at least $1 million in damages, citing “mental anguish, loss of consortium, grief, bereavement, loss of advice, care and counsel, loss of society and companionship, [and] medical expenses.” 

The suit languished until the beginning of 2023, when Blain hired new counsel, which served Daniel Sullivan with a series of questions and “Requests for Admissions” — among them, requests that Daniel admit he had intentionally killed his wife. “Admit that the reason that you intentionally killed Sophia Sullivan … was because she had decided to divorce you,” the document reads. 

Daniel was given 30 days to respond, per the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, with Blain’s attorneys stating that the statements would be deemed admitted unless a response received within that timeframe laid out “in detail the reason why it cannot be truthfully admitted or denied.”

When Daniel did not respond, Blain’s counsel filed a motion for partial summary judgment, which the court granted, ruling that Daniel Sullivan had intentionally caused the death of Sophia Sullivan. The order that Daniel pay Blain $7 million in damages plus attorney’s fees is the court’s final judgment in the case, though Daniel has the option of appealing the ruling.

Neither Daniel Sullivan nor Blain’s attorney, John Sopuch, returned requests for comment by press time.