Schwarzenegger's apology letter angers victim's family

January 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
An explanation and an apology were issued in a letter from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the family of a murder victim, but it is only causing more pain for a Bay Area family. In it, the former governor explains why he commuted the sentence of a high-ranking politician's son.

Schwarzenegger said he was so sorry that the commutation of Esteban Nunez caused this family more pain. The family, though, calls this letter a public relations stunt, a joke, and damage control, and now they're talking about a lawsuit.

The letter begins, "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Santos, words cannot adequately express the sorrow in my heart for the loss of your son, Luis..."

If the letter was supposed to make Kathy Santos feel better, it has only made her more outraged.

It concludes, "Maria and I send our deepest condolences and heartfelt prayers. Most sincerely, Arnold Schwarzenegger."

The letter arrived at the family's Concord home over the weekend.

It is the first time Schwarzenegger reached out to the family since reducing the sentence of Nunez from 16 years for his role in the murder of Luis Santos down to seven. Nunez is the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. It was one of Schwarzenegger's final moves before leaving office.

In the letter, the then-governor apologized for adding to the family's grief. He wrote, "But our system of justice demands that the facts of this case be weighed without the passion of a father's rage. And the facts of this case do not support equal sentences for both men."

"His facts are based on what Fabian told him. They have nothing to do with real fact," says Kathy Santos.

Schwarzenegger said Nunez did not personally stab Luis Santos, calling the sentence excessive.

"The commutation was strictly political corruption. That was those two guys in cahoots, Fabian and Schwarzenegger, trying to do a backdoor deal, and if they think that they're going to get away with it, they have a long thing coming," says Kathy.

She says her family's rights were violated; they should have been notified about the reduced sentence.

"In every state, and in the federal government, the executive has the power ofcommutation of sentence and that power is virtually unassailable in a court of law," says ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson.

In the letter, Schwarzenegger said, as a father, he knows no sentence is too harsh for the murder of Luis Santos -- a San Diego college student at the time -- but Kathy Santos calls it insincere.

"I just thought to myself, 'Wow, Fabian still got away with it. Even though he couldn't get away with it in the courts, he got away with it with his buddy," she says.

Instead of helping or providing comfort, Kathy Santos said the letter from Schwarzenegger actually made her pain even worse. The family says if they decide to sue, it will be because they believe their rights under the California Victims' Bill of Rights were violated.