Schwarzenegger commutes Nunez sentence

January 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
In a move that's raising eyebrows, Governor Schwarzenegger commuted the manslaughter sentence of the son of former assembly speaker Fabian Nunez. Esteban Nunez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter earlier this year for his role in a fight that killed Luis Santos of Concord.

The order comes in the final hours of the governor's term in office. The victim's parents say this is politics at its worst. They say the sentence was already the result of a plea deal.

"It is a showing of gross injustice by our Governator," said Kathy Santos, the victim's mother.

Kathy and Fred Santos of Concord are angry. Their son Luis was stabbed to death in a fight over two years ago. Sunday, they found out that Esteban Nunez, one of the men convicted of his killing, will serve a reduced sentence -- courtesy of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was one of Schwarzenegger's last moves on his final, full day in office.

"He did it in such a sneaky way, the last day of his office and he did not even have the courtesy to notify us, as the victim's family, that this case even came up in the governor's office," said Fred Santos, the victim's father.

Esteban Nunez was supposed to serve 16 years in prison for the death of Luis Santos, but will now only serve seven years. He is the son of former assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, who worked closely with Schwarzenegger especially on AB 32, the state's landmark global warming law. But in his statement, Schwarzenegger made no mention of their relationship. Instead, he wrote how the younger Nunez wasn't the instigator and wasn't the one who actually stabbed Santos.

According to Schwarzenegger: "given Nunez's limited role in Santos's death, and considering that Nunez had no criminal record prior to this offense, I believe Nunez's sentence is excessive."

Kathy and Fred Santos say that explanation is just a cover to what's really going on.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger essentially said it's okay to stab other people. It's okay to destroy evidence as long as you come from a connected family," said Fred Santos.

But as unfair as it may seem to the victim's loved ones, one legal analyst says the Nunez family just knew how to use the system to their advantage.

"There's a legal process they follow. They apparently followed that process and he was no doubt heavily lobbied by the people who had the insight and the wisdom to go to the decision maker early on," said legal analyst Bill Portanova.

To date, Governor Schwarzenegger has issued ten sentence commutations. That's significantly more compared to his predecessors. Governor Pete Wilson, for instance, didn't grant any. Governor Ronald Reagan on the other hand granted 17.