Former Gov denies justice to Santos family

by Chris Pocock

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Artwork courtesy of Omar Rodriguez

Artwork courtesy of Omar Rodriguez

It’s been nearly two years since the tragic murder of San Diego Mesa College student Luis Santos, who was stabbed on 55th Street near Peterson Gym.

The event sparked a tremendous response from nearly everyone on campus: Students held candlelight vigils for the 22-year-old, the San Diego State Police Department actively pursued leads and the school administration worked to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

The result of the community’s massive support was as close to a resolution as Santos’ family could hope for. Two of the attackers, Ryan Jett, who was responsible for the wound that killed Santos, and Esteban Nuñez, who actively participated in the brutal stabbing of two other victims in the incident, were each convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Justice was served and the Santos family given some solace in the judicial decision.
Or so we thought. In a disgusting abuse of political power, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Nuñez’s sentence to just seven years in prison on his last day in office — less than half of the original sentence.

The commuting, however, is more than mere coincidence. Unfortunately for the Santos family, it pays to have connections in politics — Nuñez is the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, a business partner of one of Schwarzenegger’s top officials and someone whom the former governor frequently collaborated with during his terms in office.

Schwarzenegger defended his actions by stating that Nuñez’s sentence was “excessive” because he wasn’t the one who killed Santos, and therefore didn’t deserve the same sentence as Jett.

While it’s true that Nuñez did not deliver the wound that killed Santos, he still has Santos’ blood on his hands — had Nuñez decided not to participate in the attack, it’s very likely Santos would still be alive.

Drunk and angry after being turned away from a fraternity party, Nuñez allegedly initiated the attack on Santos and stabbed two of Santos’ friends in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2008. After Santos was fatally stabbed in the heart, Jett and Nuñez left Santos in a pool of his own blood and drove to Sacramento, where the two burned their bloody clothes and threw their weapons into a nearby river.

I can think of a lot of words concerning Nuñez’s sentencing, but “excessive” isn’t one of them. Perhaps even more disturbing is Nuñez’s reaction after the stabbing: Before Nuñez was arrested, he allegedly bragged to a friend that he “got one (of Santos’ friends) in the shoulder.” Following Nuñez’s arrest, he told another friend involved in the case not to worry because “(Fabian Nuñez) would take care of it and could get (us) off on self-defense.”

I am truly taken aback that Schwarzenegger would choose to commute Nuñez’s sentence. The Santos family will never have its son back; all that remains of him is a stenciled image on the sidewalk where he was killed. It’s sickening to see one man’s political alliance make a mockery of California’s justice system and to justice itself. Nuñez, who plead guilty to charges including involuntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon as part of a plea deal, is by no means an innocent man. But what does that really matter if you know the right people?

Undoubtedly, commuting Nuñez’s sentence was a purely political move. According to the Los Angeles Times, last year Schwarzenegger overturned the California Parole Board’s decision to reduce the sentences of 29 similar cases, in which the defendants participated in a crime that left a victim dead but did not deliver the fatal blow themselves. The irony is as stupefying as it is heartless.

Schwarzenegger could take a few hints from his acting persona. When he was elected governor in 2003, he arrived fresh-faced to politics, a yet uncorrupted figure bent on governing fairly and restoring California to its utmost potential. Seven years later, it has finally become obvious how much that figure has changed.

Despite the fact this event is only a small fraction of Schwarzenegger’s terms as governor, it still presents a sad and sobering fact: Justice, for all crimes, will be served — as long as the accused doesn’t have any political connections. As for Schwarzenegger’s future, he should stick to what he knows best: acting. After all, playing the part of the ass-kicking, no-name-taking vigilante is a whole lot easier than being one in real life.

“I’ll be back?” Let’s hope not.

-Chris Pocock is a journalism junior.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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