By: Rochelle Alleyne
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (Scripps News Tampa) — Through tears Thursday, Donald Santini was denied bond before his upcoming murder trial.
The 65-year-old is accused of strangling 33-year-old Cynthia Wood in June of 1984.
According to court records, authorities in California picked him up in June of 2023 after evading police for nearly 40 years.
“You knew you were running from something,” said 13th Judicial Circuit judge Catherine Catlin, “You’re the definition of flight risk. There is nothing I can do to preserve the safety of this community if I was to let you go.”
“He doesn’t deserve any freedom. We’ve had no freedom for 40 years, wondering where he was. And it’s been awful,” said Wood’s stepdaughter Denise Kozer told Scripps News Tampa in June.
During Thursday’s proceedings, prosecutors also mentioned on the record that Santini may have been asked to kill Wood by someone else.
“In that interview, he also admitted that he had been on the run for over 39 years that he knew that he was under arrest for a contract killing out of the state of Florida, this particular case,” said a prosecutor.
And it’s a revelation that Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) law professor Dr. Pamella Seay says doesn’t bode well for Santini’s defense.
“A killing for hire is, in many circles, worse than a killing for passion or some other reason,” she said.
Wood’s family is also calling for the death penalty in this case.
And while Dr. Seay says she’s unsure if that punishment will be considered, she adds that the possibility is still there.
“It depends on the circumstances surrounding it. What were the aggravating circumstances that contributed to the crime? What is it that caused this? And if you’re talking about a contract hit, that could be an aggravating circumstance—that you don’t want that kind of person out on the street ever again. That’s quite possible,” she said.
This story was originally published by Scripps News Tampa, an E.W. Scripps Company.