Video above from previous coverage: ‘I feel I am being set up’: Cold case murder suspect writes letter to 8 On Your Side reporter
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A man who was arrested earlier this year in connection with a 1984 killing in Hillsborough County entered a plea on Thursday and was sentenced to 50 years in prison, according to a spokesperson for the 13th Judicial Circuit.
Donald Santini, 65, was also sentenced to 15 years of probation in addition to the prison sentence, authorities said.
“No family should have to spend decades waiting for justice to be served in the cruel murder of their loved one,” State Attorney Suzy Lopez said in a statement. “[Santini] stole an innocent life, but he also left a family without their mother, and without answers. Our thoughts are with the victim’s family and friends a they close a painful chapter and move toward healing.”
Santini lived in Texas and California under the name Wellman Simmonds to avoid being captured, authorities said. He was caught when he applied for a passport and the fingerprints matched those of the murder suspect.
Santini was arrested in June in San Diego in connection with the killing of 33-year-old Cynthia Ruth Wood.
Detectives said Wood was getting divorced at the time she met Santini. He planned to befriend her and asked her out on a date, according to court documents.
Wood was last seen leaving her house with Santini on the night of June 5, 1984. A woman told detectives that Santini allegedly confessed to her that he strangled Wood and dumped her body in a canal in Riverview, according to the arrest warrant.
Police quickly identified Santini as the suspect, but by the time a warrant was issued for his arrest, he was gone. Investigators searched for him across the country and even on the other side of the world. The case also appeared on the “America’s Most Wanted” television show on several occasions between 1990 and 2013.
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