Schwarzenegger commutes prison sentence of Fabian Nuñez's son [Updated]
In his final night before leaving office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the prison sentence of the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez who had pleaded guilty to taking part in the slaying of a college student.
Schwarzenegger announced the move in a batch of eleventh-hour press releases e-mailed to reporters. He also announced he was granting several other commutations and pardons and giving plum government appointments to political allies and the spouse of his chief of staff.
Esteban Nuñez, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the October 2008 stabbing death of college student Luis Dos Santos near San Diego State, had his prison term commuted to seven years by the governor. In a statement, the governor noted that Nuñez, though involved in the fight, did not inflict the fatal knife wound to Santos' chest. He cites a finding by the court that it was a friend of Nuñez who stabbed Santos through the chest, "severing his heart."
"I do not discount the gravity of the offense," Schwarzenegger's statement said. "But given Nuñez's limited role in Santos' death, and considering that … Nuñez had no criminal record prior to this offense, I believe Nuñez's sentence is excessive."
Fabian Nuñez, a Democrat, grew close to the governor while speaker. The two worked together to pass the state's landmark global warming law, which was a signature achievement of Schwarzenegger's time in office. Fabian Nuñez is a business partner of the governor's chief political advisor at the consulting firm Mercury Public Affairs.
“We are totally outraged,” said Fred Santos, the father of Luis Santos. “For the governor to wait until the last day in hopes it would fly under the radar is an absolute injustice.”
Santos, a software engineer in Concord in Northern California, said Esteban Nuñez “had already gotten lucky once” when prosecutors accepted a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid standing trial on murder charges, which could have led to a life sentence.
He said the family was not warned about the impending commutation and learned about it Sunday from reporters. “The governor did not even have the courtesy to notify the victim’s family,” he 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.”
A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the governor’s office would have no further comment beyond the press release and statement it sent Sunday.
-- Evan Halper in Sacramento and Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Esteban Nuñez reacts after being sentenced, June 25, 2010, in San Diego. Credit: K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune
[For the Record, 8:10 p.m. Jan. 2: An earlier version of this post said that Esteban Nuñez was found of guilty of taking part in the murder of a San Diego-area college student. The defendants were charged with manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon.]