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Judge turns down request by son of former Assembly speaker for reduction of sentence in slaying case

October 1, 2010 | 11:01 am

A San Diego judge Friday turned down a request by the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez to reduce the 16-year prison sentence the son was given for his role in the 2008 fatal stabbing of a college student.

Superior Court Judge Robert O'Neill said he lacked jurisdiction in the matter because the case has been sent to an appellate court. He rejected arguments to the contrary.

Esteban Nunez, now 21, was given the maximum sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter and assault in the October 2008 death of Luis Santos, a student at San Diego Mesa College.

Nunez and three friends attacked Santos during a late night of heavy drinking on a street near San Diego State University.

Santos' father angrily criticized the Nunez family for seeking a reduction in the sentence.

"You can't go shopping for your own sentence," Fred Santos said. "This is ridiculous. Maybe this is what the Nunez family does: skirt responsibility."

Esteban Nunez's lawyers asserted that he deserved a lesser sentence than his co-defendant, Ryan Jett, who admitted stabbing Santos and has two prior felony convictions. Nunez had no prior convictions; he used a knife in the brawl to cut two of Santos' friends, who survived.

Esteban Nunez's trial attorney, Bradley Patton, asserted that O'Neill reneged on a suggestion he made before a plea bargain was reached in May that he would treat Nunez more leniently than Jett. O'Neill did not address that contention at Friday's hearing.

Nunez's appellate attorney, Charles Sevilla, maintained that O'Neill retained jurisdiction because the issue cannot be raised on appeal because Nunez's appeal is strictly on the record at sentencing and the request before O'Neill was instead based on new facts and declarations, including one from Patton.

Before Friday's hearing, Fabian Nunez and other family members held a rally on the courthouse steps.

They said that Esteban Nunez would not have accepted the plea bargain if he had known he would be sentenced to 16 years in prison, not the seven to 11 years that Patton had said was the likely sentence.

"The level of injustice committed against my son is pretty clear. My son was coerced into taking a plea bargain," the elder Nunez said.

He suggested that his son will attempt to have the plea bargain withdrawn. "We are not afraid of taking this to trial," he said.

But prosecutors noted that by pleading guilty, a murder charge that could have brought a life sentence was dropped against Esteban Nunez, who is now in state prison.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego