The man who spent nearly four decades on the run for the 1984 murder of a Hillsborough County woman finally accepted responsibility for the crime in court.
Donald Santini was sentenced to 50 years in Florida State Prison followed by 15 years of probation as part of a plea deal with the State Attorney’s Office.
The 65-year-old was set to go on trial last month for the murder of a single mother whose body was found in a ditch in Riverview, near Tampa, in June of 1984. He eluded capture by living under the name Wellman Simmonds in Texas and California, abandoning his old life and assuming a new identity.
Santini was featured on America’s Most Wanted as a fugitive several times throughout his decades on the run but was only discovered by federal authorities this year when he applied for a passport and his fingerprints were found to be a match for the missing murder suspect.
“No family should have to spend decades waiting for justice to be served in the cruel murder of their loved one,” said State Attorney Suzy Lopez. “This defendant not only 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 as they close a painful chapter and move toward healing.”
The State Attorney’s Office of the 13th Judicial circuit encompasses all of Hillsborough County, including the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace, and Plant City.