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Nobody's ever believed that I'm innocent. Why would you?
Don Sanderson's first remark to Morgan

Donald "Don" Sanderson is a man who was framed by James Stanworth. He appeared in the Season Six episode of Criminal Minds, "25 to Life".


"The last time they beat me, they...well...I, I almost had it. I mean, I didn't think that I was gonna make it. And I was ok with that. But I was lying there...and I had this, See, Joshua was, uh, was grown up. The sun was shining on us. I... I don't know where we were. But I got to tell him that I didn't hurt our family. [...] And then I just didn't want to feel sorry for myself. I wanted... I wanted live my life in here the way that I would have lived it out there and do things that I got cheated out of with Joshua."
- Don recounting his ambitions for his life, family, and freedom

Donald Sanderson was born on February 17, 1960. He was a second-year medical resident intending to specialize in pediatrics. He lived with his wife, Carrie, and their children, Abby and Joshua, in Washington D.C. On the night of March 9, 1985, when Donald had gone to sleep on the couch after an argument, a resentful former resident of the house, James Stanworth, broke into the house along with two local petty thieves, Mary Rutka and Thomas "Tommy" Wittman, knocked down and stabbed Donald non-fatally and killed Carrie and Abby, leaving Joshua alive on Mary's request. When the police started investigating, Donald told them what had happened. But when he at first forgot to mention that a woman was present, they became increasingly suspicious. The investigation came to the conclusion that Donald had killed his wife and daughter and injured himself to make himself look like a victim; it was argued that, being a medical student, he would have the knowledge and skills required to do so.

At the trial, the prosecution claimed that Don had suffered an acute psychological break and was a psychopath who wouldn't be able to control his murderous urges. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in 25 years. While in prison, he became a model inmate. He even started a mentor program that helped 41 inmates get their General Education Diplomas. Don was attacked regularly by inmates; on his sixteenth and final time in the infirmary, which he would've accepted as the beating that would kill him if it had, he imagined reuniting with Joshua and living the rest of their lives together when his son accepted he didn't kill their family. When he realized from recollected memories that Tommy, who worked at the local grocery store where the Sandersons had frequently shopped at, had been present during the attack, he began using his Internet privileges to do research about him online. When James, who had become a successful businessman and congressional candidate, found out, he arranged to have a stash of heroin planted in Don's cell, successfully getting his Internet privileges revoked. Don decided to improvise, continuing to be a model inmate.

25 to Life[]


Donald being questioned by Morgan in his cell.

"No, I'm not a killer. ...Ok, yes. Yes. There wasn't a day that I was locked up where I didn't hope that whoever took my family's lives was dead. I wanted to find him and I wanted to destroy his life like he did mine. I wanted him to pay!"
- Don after he tracked down Tommy Wittman, killing him in self-defense

Eventually, the prison staff contemplates giving him his chance of parole prematurely, but they are still suspicious and request the BAU to send an agent into interview him. Morgan is given the task, and after interrogating Don, who tells him that he regrets murdering Carrie and Abby, he believes that he deserves to be paroled and argues his case to the staff. The staff, in turn, accepts the response and paroles Donald. Two days later, Don tracks down Tom and holds him at gunpoint, presumably to demand information. However, Tommy fights back and Don is forced to fatally stab him with one of Tommy's kitchen knives in self-defense. Ironically, since James stabbed Carrie and Abby to death, local authorities immediately suspected Don of succumbing to his murderous urges. Morgan is especially outraged and initially doesn't listen to Don when he tries to state that his murder of Tommy was self-defense and that he didn't kill Carrie and Abby. But Morgan and Rossi eventually listen and take Don back to the old Sanderson residence, where he flashes back to the time James, Mary, and Tommy broke into the home, telling everything he recalls from that night to the two agents. When Mary is murdered by James (who, in turn, is eventually arrested by Morgan and the BAU), Don is finally freed and completely liberated of his wrongful record. Garcia manages to track down Joshua, who turned to medicine like his father and planned to open his own clinic. Don, nervous from all the time that's passed between them, has a joyous reunion with Joshua as Morgan watches.

Known Victims[]

  • December 7, 2010: Tommy Wittman (was stabbed to death in self-defense)