Sentence reduced in Gov’s last hours

by Hutton Marshall

Nunez (far right), will only have to serve seven of the original 16 years he was sentenced to for his involvement in the fatal stabbing of Luis Santos at an SDSU fraternity party. File Photo

Six months ago, Esteban Nunez received a 16-year prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. But on his last day in office, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced Nunez’s sentence to seven years.

Nunez was charged with the murder of Luis Dos Santos, a San Diego Mesa College student. Nunez and three other men were involved in a fight on the San Diego State campus that ended in the assault of four other individuals, including Santos. The fight reportedly occurred after Nunez and his friends were denied entrance into a fraternity party.

Nunez and the three others involved in the attack were initially charged with murder, but took a plea bargain to avoid the possibility of receiving a life sentence. Although Nunez was not the one who stabbed Santos, he did allegedly stab another member of Santos’ party and went on to help destroy the incriminating evidence.

This 16-year sentence Nunez and co-defendant Ryan Jett both received went uncontested until Dec. 31, when Schwarzenegger, during his final hours in office, commuted Nunez’s sentence from 16 to seven years.

In a letter to the Santos family, Schwarzenegger stated he believes “(Nunez’s) sentence is disproportionate in comparison to Jett’s.”

According to a 2009 LA Weekly article, Leshanor Thomas — also accused in Santos’ murder — said in a search warrant, “Hopefully (Nunez’s) dad would take care of it and could get them off on self-defense.”

Many, including San Diego District County Attorney Bonnie Dumanis who originally handled the case, have criticized the former governor for waiting until the last possible moment to commute the sentence, when he would face less backlash for his actions than he would have last year.

Schwarzenegger reduced Nunez’s sentence during his last days in office as governor. MCT Campus

Nunez is the son of Fabian Nunez, former speaker of the California State Assembly, who worked with Schwarzenegger during his time in office. The two  worked together on California’s global warming law, which was a pivotal move in Schwarzenegger’s political career. Nunez now works with Schwarzenegger’s former communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, as a political consultant.

Regardless of the timing, Schwarzenegger has been met with a lot of controversy for the move, most voraciously from the Santos family. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Santos’ father Fred Santos said, “This is dirty politics: cutting backroom deals. I guess if you’re the son of somebody important you can kill someone and get all sorts of breaks.”

The commutation of Nunez’s sentence may face some legal repercussion as well. Communications Director Paul Levikow at Dumanis’ office said their appeals division is looking for any loophole to challenge this move. The San Diego District Attorney’s office handled Nunez’s case when he was initially sentenced. There is a definite feeling of obligation to explore what the situation’s “legal brevity might be, if there is one.”

According to reports by KPBS, the Santos family is also consulting legal council about the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the former governor.