Donald Santini, charged with the 1984 Florida murder of Cynthia Wood, is being held without bond
A Florida judge has ordered a 65-year-old California refugee held without bail in connection with the murder of a woman 39 years ago.
Donald Santini was arrested in June in California by US marshals and extradited to the Sunshine State without protest. Authorities said the suspect has used 13 aliases over the years.
Santini was the last person seen with 33-year-old Cynthia “Cindy” Ruth Wood. The warrant said a medical examiner determined she had been strangled and Santini’s fingerprints were found on her body.
‘Being on the run for almost 40 years is a sense of guilt. You knew you were running from something… You are the definition of flight risk,” Judge Catherine Catlin told Santini at a hearing in Tampa on Thursday.
Photos taken in the courtroom showed Santini crying before the judge denied bail.
Donald Santini, 65, wept in court when he was ordered to be held without bail before being tried for the murder of Cynthia Wood
Prosecutors say Santini alluded to Wood’s death being a contract killing
In 1984, Santini was known as Charles Michael Stevens, an alias he used to flee a Texas arrest warrant.
At the time of his arrest, he was living under the name Wellman Simmonds in Campo, California, in southeastern San Diego County.
Wood met with Santini, who called her promising to provide information about her husband, Barry Wood, that could potentially help her gain custody of their two children, who were 3 and 5, according to previous reports from the Bradenton Herald.
Wood also had a son from a previous relationship. Police believe she was strangled and her body was found in a watery grave with Santini three days after she was last seen. Soon after, he left town.
Santini’s lawyer asked the judge for bail. But prosecutors noted that Santini killed Wood after he was on the run from a Texas robbery-related convenience store robbery charge in which he was charged with stealing $270 while armed with a knife.
“You have your own mouth that he has been on the lam for 39 years and that he purposely used fake IDs to evade law enforcement,” prosecutor Michelle Doherty told the court.
The prosecution also said in court that Santini referred to Wood’s death as “contract killing” in interviews.
“You are the definition of flight risk,” the judge told Santini during the hearing. “There’s nothing I can do to maintain the safety of this community if I let you go.”
Cynthia Wood met Santini when the children of the suspect’s girlfriend went to the nursery where the victim worked
Santini was captured in San Diego in early June after escaping arrest for 39 years
Meanwhile, Santini’s public defender Jamie Kane said there is no evidence the suspect left Texas with an outstanding warrant.
‘Where is the order not to appear? Where’s the track court case number? Where is the evidence that he was in custody? Aside from a simple statement from Mr. Santini, who isn’t a lawyer,” Kane said.
Santini was identified by the FBI after applying for a passport under the name Wellman Simmonds.
Wood’s stepdaughter Denise Kozer told that on Thursday ABC Tamper that she was pleased that Santini will be held until trial.
He doesn’t deserve freedom. We haven’t had freedom for 40 years and wondered where he was. And it’s been terrible,” she said.
While Dr. Pamella Seay, a Florida Gulf Coast law professor, told the station that Santini’s claim that Wood’s death was a contract killing could hurt his defense.
“A murder-for-hire is, in many circles, worse than a murder out of passion or any other reason.”
Seay was also unsure if the murder is a death penalty.
“It depends on the circumstances around it. What were the aggravating circumstances that contributed to the crime? What caused this? And when you talk about a lease, that can be an aggravating circumstance – that you never want a person like that on the street again. That is quite possible,’ said Professor Seay.