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Son of Fabian Nunez, convicted in San Diego slaying, seeks reduction in prison sentence

September 27, 2010 |  7:38 am


The son of former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez is seeking a reduction in the 16-year prison sentence he received in June after pleading guilty to manslaughter and assault in the 2008 stabbing death of a San Diego college student.

Lawyers say that Esteban Núñez, now 21, deserved a lesser sentence than was meted out to co-defendant Ryan Jett, who had prior felony convictions and admitted stabbing Luis Santos, a Mesa College student, during a late-night drunken brawl near San Diego State.

In court papers, Núñez's trial attorney, Bradley Patton, said Superior Court Judge Robert O'Neill reneged on a suggestion made in a chambers conference that he would treat Núñez more leniently than Jett.

Both received 16-year sentences, the maximum, in a plea bargain in which murder charges were dropped. Jett had prior convictions for drunk driving and possession of ammunition.

Patton said that based on O'Neill's comments in chambers that he had told his client and his client's parents to expect a sentence of seven to 11 years. 

Fabian Núñez said in a sworn declaration filed with the appeal for a lower sentence that "it was with this understanding of the sentence that Esteban agreed to the plea bargain, which we supported."

A hearing is set for Friday on the issue. At a hearing two weeks ago, Fabian Núñez told the judge angrily that he had promised to treat his son differently than Jett. "You did, sir," he said before walking out of the courtroom.

Núñez, Jett and two friends attacked Luis Santos in a rage after being denied entry to a fraternity party, according to court documents. Jett stabbed Santos; Núñez, also armed with a knife, cut two of Santos' friends during the brief confrontation.

Prosecutors oppose the request for a reduction in sentence, asserting that Esteban Núñez took the plea bargain to avoid the possibility of a life sentence if he had been convicted of murder. Santos' family also opposed the reduction and attended the earlier hearing.

In court documents, Esteban Núñez's attorneys say he deserves a lesser sentence than Jett because of his age -- 19 at the time of the incident -- and lack of a criminal record.

Núñez, Jett and two friends had come to San Diego for a weekend of partying. The two friends pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were given suspended sentences.

Fabian Núñez, a Los Angeles Democrat, served three terms in the state Assembly and was speaker from 2004 to 2008. Esteban Núñez is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif.

At the earlier hearing, the judge rejected the request for a sentence reduction, but Esteban Núñez's lawyers hoped to make additional arguments in Friday's hearing.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Esteban Núñez (far left) and co-defendants at arraignment. Credit: Los Angeles Times