TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge has ordered the detention without bail of a 65-year-old California fugitive in connection with the death of a woman nearly 40 years ago.
Donald Santini was arrested by US marshals in California last month and extradited to Florida. He had used at least 13 aliases over the years.
Santini was the last person seen with Cynthia “Cindy” Ruth Wood, 33. The arrest warrant says a medical examiner determined she had been strangled and Santini’s fingerprints were found on her body.
“The fact that you have been on the run for almost 40 years is a conscience of guilt. You knew you were running from something,” Judge Catherine Catlin told Santini during a hearing in Tampa on Thursday.
Photos taken in the courtroom showed Santini crying before the judge denied bail.
Wood’s daughter-in-law, Denise Kozer, told the Tampa Bay Times that she hoped to find a way out of a case that has resulted in “utter devastation” for her family.
In 1984, Santini was known as Charles Michael Stevens, which was an alias he used to flee a warrant in Texas. At the time of his arrest, he was living as Wellman Simmonds in Campo, Calif., in southeastern San Diego County. He served on the local water board.
“He has a wife and kids in California, and I feel sorry for them because they probably didn’t know either,” Kozer said. “But they are all still alive. Our lives have been devastated, changed forever.
Kozar told The Times that Barry Wood and Cindy Wood’s eldest son had died since the murder, and that his younger half-siblings had suffered from mental health issues since their parents died.
She told the newspaper that she had spent years knowing that the man who destroyed her family was free. The case has been featured several times in “America’s Most Wanted.”
Wood met Santini, who had called her with promises to provide information about her husband, Barry Wood, who could possibly help him gain custody of their two children, who were 3 and 5, according to earlier reports. from the Bradenton Herald. Wood also had a son from a previous relationship. Kozar was Barry Wood’s daughter from another marriage.
Kozar, who was 20 when Wood was killed, said she hoped Santini wouldn’t have another chance to escape.
“If they need more evidence, we’re ready to let them exhume the body – whatever it takes to make sure it’s not going anywhere,” Kozer said.
Santini’s lawyer asked the judge for bail. But prosecutors noted Santini killed Wood after fleeing a charge in Texas related to a convenience store robbery.
The judge didn’t need any further evidence.
“You are the definition of flight risk,” the judge told Santini during the hearing. “There is nothing I can do to keep this community safe if I were to let you go.”