Trial Date Set For Group Accused In Stabbing Death - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Trial Date Set For Group Accused In Stabbing Death Of College Student

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An Oct. 5 trial date was set today for the son of ex-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and three other young men accused in the stabbing death of a college student during a fight near San Diego State University.

Esteban Nunez, 20, Rafael Garcia, 19, Ryan Jett, 23, and Leshanor Thomas, 20, are accused in the Oct. 4 death of 22-year-old Mesa College student Luis Santos.

Two other men were stabbed in the melee, and Santos' roommate, Brandon Scheerer, was punched in the eye.

During today's Superior Court arraignment, all four defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, assault and vandalism -- the latter charge for allegedly puncturing the tire on a nearby trailer.

A status conference was scheduled for Tuesday, when the case might be assigned to a judge. Nunez, Garcia, Thomas and Jett told Judge Charles Rogers they would waive their presence for that hearing.

Each defendant faces more than 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Garcia and Nunez are out of custody on bail, and Jett and Thomas remain behind bars in lieu of bail of $1 million and $250,000, respectively.

After a 5 1/2-day preliminary hearing earlier this month, Judge Cynthia Bashant ruled there was probable cause to believe the defendants were guilty as charged.

The judge found that Nunez, Garcia and Jett were "talking smack" and "looking for trouble" at the apartment of Garcia's cousin in the hours leading up to the fatal confrontation. The defendants were upset after being turned away from a nearby fraternity party, according to evidence presented at the hearing.

Defense attorneys said their clients acted in self-defense -- an issue the judge said should be decided at trial.

Bashant said the altercation was a fist fight that escalated into a knife fight, and that nobody in the victim's group had knives, a fact defense attorneys disputed because Jett was stabbed in the leg.

A witness told detectives that Santos told him just before the fight that he carried a "piece" and wouldn't back down from anyone, and apparently the defendants' group overheard the remarks.

The judge reduced Thomas' bail from $1 million to $250,000 after dismissing an allegation that he had a knife during the altercation.

Deputy District Attorney Jill DiCarlo argued that all of the defendants are liable for the killing even though they didn't intend to kill Santos.

Once they returned to the home of Garcia's brother in San Diego after the fight, Thomas drove everyone back to their homes in the Sacramento area, according to friend John Murray.

On the trip north, Jett and Nunez said the knives "should be gotten rid of," Murray testified.

Once back in the Sacramento area, Jett got some gas at a convenience store and burned some clothes near a river, the witness said.

He said he overheard Jett and Nunez talk about throwing knives in the river, but felt uncomfortable and walked back to his truck before Nunez, Garcia and Jett returned.

Once in his truck, according to Murray, Jett and Nunez said "we weren't to speak about this instance again," referring to what happened at the river.

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