Fabian Núñez's words enrage slain man's family: Schwarzenegger's favouritism to a Murderer
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez on Monday infuriated the family of a slain man by questioning the use of taxpayer dollars on court proceedings in which the family seeks to overturn a controversial sentence commutation that benefited Núñez's son.
In one of his last acts in office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Esteban Núñez's 16-year voluntary manslaughter sentence to seven years, and later said he did it to help his friend, the former speaker. But Schwarzenegger did not notify the victim's family beforehand, and they sued the state in an attempt to nullify the commutation.
Luis Santos, a 22-year-old student at San Diego Mesa College, was slain in San Diego in a fight that was started by Esteban Núñez and his friends.
Fabian Núñez spoke to reporters after the first hearing in the case in Sacramento and claimed that politics played a role in his son's sentencing in the fatal stabbing of Santos, of Concord.
"When you're dealing with a district attorney, like we did in San Diego, who clearly has aspirations and has always had aspirations for higher office, the approach that they took to my son's case and particularly to him - irrespective of the facts of the actual case - they picked on my son from day one," Núñez said.
He also said that the voter-approved initiative for victims' rights, known as Marsy's Law, that is at the heart of the suit is "not a reason to use taxpayers' money in the courtroom, certainly."
Those words enraged Santos' family and their attorneys, who were standing just feet away.
"His son pled guilty in court for killing my son," said Fred Santos. "This politician got together with another politician and overruled and reduced the sentence."
Nina Ashford, attorney for the family, called Núñez's comments "disgusting."
The exchange came after a brief and largely uneventful hearing in the case. Lawyers with the attorney general's office argued that the judge should stop the lawsuit from proceeding. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang later issued a final ruling, rejecting the state's request.
When the case goes to trial, what will be at issue is whether Schwarzenegger violated the 2008 ballot initiative Proposition 9, which was passed by 54 percent of voters. The initiative amended California's Constitution and requires that crime victims and their families be given the opportunity to be heard at any proceeding involving a post-conviction decision.
The initiative also requires sentences that are handed down by a court to be carried out fully, but it does not specifically address commutations or pardons. Legal experts have said it likely will be difficult to get a court to interfere with a governor's power to commute sentences.
Fight near fraternity
The conviction stems from a 2008 attack near a San Diego State University fraternity, when a friend of Núñez's allegedly stabbed Santos in the chest. Núñez admitted to stabbing another man during the fight, although that man survived.
Núñez was initially charged with murder but pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in a deal with prosecutors and received the maximum sentence. Schwarzenegger called the sentence disproportionate, saying the alleged killer was also given 16 years.
Schwarzenegger did not notify the victim's family of his decision to commute Núñez's sentence prior to doing so, which he has since said he regrets. He also wrote to the family and apologized.
But the former governor has since further upset the family by statements made to reporters. He told a Los Angeles television reporter, who had been pressing Schwarzenegger to explain the commutation, "Don't ask me the same question, OK? Because you're boring the hell out of me." He then made a snoring sound into the microphone.
In explaining his decision to Newsweek magazine, Schwarzenegger said, "Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend."
The commuting of the younger Núñez's sentence has spawned legislation at the Capitol to require that a district attorney be notified of an application for commutation and that the district attorney notify victims. Additionally, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has filed a civil suit in San Diego County to have Núñez's longer sentence reinstated, making similar arguments as the suit in Sacramento.
Dumanis, responding to Fabian Núñez's comments in a statement released Monday, said her 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."
After the hearing, Luis Santos' mother, Kathy Santos, said she felt as if her son had been "stabbed in the back by politicians after his death." She said she does not want to speak to Schwarzenegger, though she added, "If I had to ask anything, it would be, 'Why did you do such a despicable thing?' "
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for August.