Times Staff Writer
LARGO — After murdering his wife in their Belleair home in 2008, Ryan Cataneo tried to disappear from Florida, fleeing across the country and eventually winding up in Las Vegas.
But this week, Cataneo faced a judge. The 43-year-old man pleaded guilty to his wife's murder and received a 42-year prison sentence.
"I think it's a life sentence," said Larry Huiner, whose daughter Deana Cataneo, 39, was killed. Huiner, of Las Vegas, said his daughter was "a wonderful girl, very caring, compassionate."
"I know he's not coming out," said Joanna Borriello, a close friend of Deana Cataneo. "I'm hoping he doesn't."
Cataneo originally was charged with first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, except in those cases in which prosecutors seek the death penalty. Second-degree murder allows for shorter sentences.
Plea bargains are relatively rare in murder cases because the stakes are so high — and in many cases, the evidence is extensive.
But in this case, Cataneo pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, with the understanding that he would be sentenced to 42 years in prison. Assistant State Attorney Frank Migliore said that given Cataneo's age, it was "functionally a life sentence."
Family members of the victim agreed to the arrangement, and so did the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.
Huiner did not want to speak too much after the sentencing on Monday, except to thank Migliore, Pinellas County sheriff's detective John Spoor and the sheriff's victim advocate unit.
Among the evidence that would have come out in the criminal case: Around the time of the murder, someone in the Cataneo home was doing computer searches for homicide defense attorneys.
Solving the murder was only part of the case, because Cataneo had fled. Spoor kept in touch with Cataneo's friends and eventually tracked him down to Las Vegas, where his brother lived.
In 2008, some of Deana Cataneo's relatives were planning to get together with her and her husband for Thanksgiving. But they couldn't reach the couple. That led to the discovery of Deana's body and Ryan Cataneo's disappearance. Authorities tracked him to Louisiana, then to a small casino just off the Las Vegas strip. He was captured five weeks after the murder.