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A Florida man has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder of missing woman Savannah Gold in 2017.
Lee Rodarte Jr., 31, received his sentence on Thursday, nearly three years after he was charged with killing Gold, with whom he worked at a Bonefish Grill in Mandarin, Action News Jax reports. Rodarte reached an arrangement with prosecutors in February and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder; in exchange, prosecutors proposed a sentence of 40 years with credit for time served, and the judge agreed.
Rodarte was in an on-again, off-again relationship with Gold while working as a manager at the restaurant, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said in a previous news release. Surveillance footage showed Gold show up for work around 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 2, 2017, but after parking her car, she did not go inside the restaurant; she instead got into the passenger seat of Rodarte’s parked car, authorities said. Less than 15 minutes later, what looked to be a brief struggle ensued inside of the vehicle and Gold was never seen leaving the car. Instead, Rodarte got out and went to Gold’s car, opening the driver’s side door and reaching inside before going back to his car and driving away.
When police found Gold’s car, one of the tires had been slashed; inside of the unlocked car were her purse and other belongings, News 4 Jax reports. Her family then began to receive text messages from her phone, in which Gold seemingly announced that she’d met someone and was running away with that person. However, due to the spelling and the way that the messages were worded, her family and friends did not believe that Gold was the person behind the texts, according to the outlet.
One text, received by Gold’s brother, read, “heyi quit im leavingwith my boyfriend i cant do this s—- anymore im fine justwant to get away,” The Florida Times-Union reports.
During the search for Gold, Rodarte joined her friends and family in handing out missing person flyers and even told them that he was concerned, her family told News 4 Jax.
Gold was missing for three days before Rodarte confessed, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said. He admitted to killing Gold and then disposing of her body in a local lake; members of the JSO Dive Team had to be called in to retrieve her remains, according to authorities.
When Gold’s body was found, officials were unable to determine a cause of death but it was clear that she had been burned and that her death had been a “violent homicide,” according to a News 4 Jax report. During the trial, Rodarte claimed that he was trying to defend himself from Gold when he grabbed her neck and heard a “pop,” but prosecutors argued against that claim.
Following Thursday’s sentencing, Gold’s family thanked the community for their support, Action News Jax reports.
“To our family, extended family and community, our hearts have begun to heal because of your love and support,” her father, Dan Gold, said. “We love Savannah, and we never realized how many of you did also.”
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