Donald Santini, a 65-year-old fugitive who managed to evade authorities for nearly four decades before his arrest in June, has now been sentenced to 50 years in prison for the murder of a Florida woman.
Donald Santini pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, striking a deal with prosecutors to avoid a first-degree murder charge
Circuit Judge Samantha Ward approved the plea deal and handed down the sentence in Tampa on Thursday. Donald Santini, who had been living in California under the alias Wellman Simmonds, was the president of a local water board in Campo, near San Diego. He was apprehended at his home following a tip from the Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force, ending the life he had built under his false identity.
The case, originally scheduled for trial in two weeks, revealed Donald Santini’s extensive use of aliases over the years
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s officials disclosed that Santini, previously known as Charles Michael Stevens in 1984, was the last person seen with Cynthia “Cindy” Ruth Wood, whose body was discovered in a water-filled ditch three days after their encounter.
During the sentencing, Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon presented chilling details, stating that Donald Santini planned to intoxicate Wood on their date and then drop her off in front of a police station. Harmon also revealed that Donald Santini claimed he was paid by Wood’s husband’s family to gather damaging character evidence for a custody battle over the couple’s children. Despite Donald Santini’s guilty plea, the hearing provided a glimpse into the gruesome details of a crime that remained unsolved for decades.