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Florida cold case murder suspect appears at extradition hearing in San Diego

Donald Michael Santini appears in court for the first time
Posted at 6:55 PM, Jun 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-09 21:57:48-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Exactly 39 years after a Florida woman’s body was found in a water filled ditch, a man made his first appearance in court for his alleged connection to the murder after being arrested in San Diego County.

In court, Donald Santini admitted he is the man authorities in Florida have been searching for decades.

However, his public defender, Douglas Miller, emphasized that was not an admission of guilt.

"We don't know anything about the underlying facts that are alleged. He could have not committed this," said Miller.

According to the United States Marshals Service, 65-year-old Donald Michael Santini was arrested in Campo on Wednesday after they got a lead from the Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force.

On Friday, Santini agreed to be extradited from San Diego to Florida, but said he does not "feel safe because of the family," prompting the public defender to tell him to be quiet.

Santini is being held without bail.

According to the arrest warrant from 1984, Santini used several aliases, including "Charles Michael Stevens" at the time of the murder.

"Regardless of whether the case just happened yesterday, or in this case it's something that's 40 years old, we want to make sure that justice is achieved," said Michael Running Junior, a Deputy District Attorney

The victim, 33-year-old Cynthia Ruth Wood, was strangled to death, according to the document.

It is still unclear how long Santini has been in San Diego County and what he has been doing for the last several decades.

On Thursday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the agency in Florida in charge of the investigation, issued a statement saying in-part:

"This arrest allows us to reexamine evidence collected in 1984 using the technology of today, as the case is now considered open once again."

HCSO also said it was sending detectives to San Diego on Thursday to interview Santini.

If Florida authorities fail to extradite Santini within 30 days, he would have another hearing on July 10 at 8:30 a.m. in the San Diego Central Courthouse.