California marks Victims’ Rights Week with early release of politician’s son who received commutation in fatal stabbing


In a truly twisted irony, the State of California marked the start of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Sunday by announcing the early prison release of the son of a former politician who had his already plea-bargained sentence for the fatal stabbing of 22-year-old San Diego college student Luis Santos commuted by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Associated Press reports.

FILE - This April 7, 2016 file photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Esteban Nunez. Nunez, the son of former California state Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, was freed from prison after his manslaughter sentence in the stabbing death of college student Luis Santos in San Diego was significantly reduced in 2011 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The CDCR said Sunday, April 10, 2016, that Esteban Nunez was released to parole supervision. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File)

Esteban Nunez

Esteban Nunez and friend Ryan Jett stabbed Santos to death in 2008. One of the wounds pierced Santos’ heart. The killers were angry after being turned away from a party.

Both men were charged with murder, as well as assault with a deadly weapon for stabbing two other victims, who survived. But on the eve of their trial in 2010, as the LA Times reports,  both killers pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon. Each received a sentence of 16 years in prison. The plea bargain spared Nunez and Jett the possibility of a first-degree murder conviction at trial, which would have resulted in sentences of 25 years to life.

But as it turns out, Esteban Nunez is the son of former state Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez. And Fabian Nunez was a political ally of then-governor Schwarzenegger, who commuted Esteban Nunez sentence to seven years on his last day in office in 2011. He served less than six before his release over the weekend.

Per the AP:

In 2012, a Sacramento judge called the commutation “repugnant” but legal. In 2015, an appeals court wrote that “back-room dealings were apparent,” but upheld Schwarzenegger’s power to reduce the sentence.

Schwarzenegger said at the time that he acted because he thought the 16-year sentence was excessive, but he also acknowledged he was helping a friend.

Schwarzenegger explained the commutation in an August, 2011, Newsweek interview, saying, “Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend.”

Santos’ family receive no warning of the commutation, per the Sacramento Bee. They and San Diego District Attorney filed lawsuits seeking to invalidate the commutation, arguing that it violated the Victims Bill of Rights, also known as Marsy’s Law. Under the 2008 legislation, victims’ families have a right to be heard during post-conviction proceedings. A three-judge panel from the 3rd District Court of Appeals grudgingly upheld an earlier court finding that gubernatorial acts of clemency do not constitute “proceedings,” and therefore are not subject to the Victims Bill of Rights.

“We are compelled to conclude that, while Schwarzenegger’s conduct could be seen as deserving of censure and grossly unjust, it was not illegal,” the panel of judges wrote in their opinion.

PHOTOS via the Associated Press

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Sandy Hook Elementary — the victims

A gunman fatally shot 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday. A 27th person, the gunman’s mother, was found dead at a home in Newtown, Connecticut.
Charlotte Bacon

Daniel Barden

Rachel D’Avino

Olivia Engel

Josephine Gay

Dawn Hochsprung

Dylan Hockley

Madeleine Hsu

Catherine Hubbard

Chase Kowalski

Nancy Lanza

Jesse Lewis

Ana Marquez-Greene

James Mattioli

Grace McDonnell

Anne Marie Murphy

Emilie Parker

Jack Pinto

Noah Pozner

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Jessica Rekos

Avielle Richman

Lauren Rousseau

Mary Sherlach

Victoria Soto

Benjamin Wheeler

Allison N. Wyatt

Credits: Nelson Hsu, Digital First Media reporters
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