Emotions high in both camps in Nunez commutation suit - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Emotions high in both camps in Nunez commutation suit

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said Monday his son's manslaughter sentence in the stabbing death of a 22-year-old Mesa College student near San Diego State University was politically motivated, angering the victim's parents and eliciting a denial from the county's top prosecutor.

The parents of Luis Santos have sued former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state, claiming he violated state law when he failed to notify them just before leaving office that he was reducing the sentence for Esteban Nunez from 16 years to seven years.

Nunez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault in connection with Santos' death, which occurred during a drunken knife fight on Oct. 4, 2008.

Ryan Jett also pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault for instigating the melee, in which two of Santos' friends were stabbed and another friend was punched in the eye, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Two others -- Leshanor Thomas and Rafael Garcia -- pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Prosecutors said the defendants went looking for a fight after they were kicked out of a fraternity party at SDSU. They fought with the victims' group near Peterson Gym.

After a court hearing over the lawsuit Monday in Sacramento, Fabian Nunez said his son received a harsher sentence because of his father's political career and San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' ambitions.

"When you're dealing with a district attorney like we did in San Diego, who clearly, you know, has aspirations and has always had aspirations for higher office, the approach that they took to my son's case, and in particular to him, irrespective of the facts of the actual case -- they picked on my son from day one," Fabian Nunez told reporters.

Nunez said Judge Robert F. O'Neill indicated that Esteban Nunez would get a much lower sentence and went back on his word when he sentenced the defendant to 16 years in prison.

Dumanis, who is running for mayor of San Diego, issued a statement in response to Fabian Nunez's comments.

"The sole purpose of both the criminal prosecution and the civil case filed by our office is to bring justice to the victims of this violent crime and their families," she said.

"The D.A.'s office makes prosecutorial decisions based on the evidence and the law, treating defendants the same regardless of who they may be related to. Unfortunately, the governor didn't do the same and his last-minute commutation greatly diminished justice and outraged the community. We're trying to right that wrong."

The victim's father said it was Fabian Nunez who politicized the process in getting his son's sentence reduced.

"He (Nunez) did politicize this process, we did not politicize this process," Fred Santos said. "We're just regular citizens. We have no pull with any politicians. He's the politician."

Schwarzenegger said in an interview published in April that he made a mistake by not notifying Santos' parents about the commutation, but said he still felt good about the decision.

The former governor said Nunez's sentence was excessive because he had no prior criminal record and did not inflict the fatal wound.

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