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article imageKiller may be freed due to decision by ex-gov Schwarzenegger

By Megan Hamilton     Jun 14, 2015 in Crime
Sacramento - A convicted murderer who is the son of a powerful California politician may walk free next year after former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the sentence on his last day in office.
Sentenced to 16 years in prison for the stabbing death of Luis Santos, 22, a Mesa College student who was with friends on the San Diego State University campus in October 2008, Esteban Nuñez is the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez.
Schwarzenegger, on his last day in office in 2011, reduced — by more than half — the sentence for his colleague's son CBS Sacramento reports.
This means that Esteban Nuñez is scheduled to be released from Mule Creek Prison in April 2016.
Many people saw this move as the height of political cronyism, and the murder victim's parents Frederico and Kathy Santos say it is unacceptable. The only reason Schwarzenegger did this, they say, is because he's friends Fabian Nuñez. The family says Nuñez shouldn't be exempt from the full punishment he was originally given, PowerTalk1460 reports.
Now, however, a Court of Appeals in Sacramento has ruled that while the former governor's decision could be considered "grossly unjust," it wasn't illegal, MailOnline reports.
"Back-room dealings were apparent," the court wrote in the decision.
Concurring with this, presiding judge Vance W. Raye wrote "As reprehensible as the Governor's action in this instance might have been, it would be equally reprehensible to ignore the clear language of a constitutional provision."
This has outraged Luis' father, who says the family was never notified of the decision to commute Nuñez's sentence.
"I guess if you're the son of somebody important, you can kill someone and get all sorts of breaks," he told a local publication in 2011, MailOnline reports.
Santos' parents contend that Schwarzenegger violated Marsy's Law, which provides victim's families a chance to be notified when a parolee is to be released early, and a chance to be heard during the proceedings, CBS Sacramento reports.
This didn't happen.
"It just makes no sense that this was allowed," said Kathy Santos.
The state, however, contends that the governor's commutation doesn't apply to Marsy's law, and said it is a protected executive privilege.
Schwarzenegger, for his part, told Newsweek that he felt "good about the decision, " MailOnline reports.
"There's criticism out there. I think it's just because of our working relationship and all that," he said. "It maybe was kind of saying 'That's why he did it.'"
"Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend."
In his commutation notice, Schwarzenegger noted that he thought the sentence was excessive due to Nuñez's "limited role in the killing." The evidence, he said, showed that Nuñez's friend dealt the fatal blow, yet both men received the same 16-year-sentence.
The deadly altercation occurred on October 4, 2008 after Nuñez and three friends were booted out of a party at a frat house.
According to prosecutors in the court case, four men had stalked the university campus "looking for trouble" until they happened upon Santos and his friends whom they challenged to fight, MailOnline reports.
The fatal blow to Santos was delivered by a co-defendant, according to court testimony, while Nuñez allegedly admitted to stabbing another man in the stomach. Their lawyers, however, argued that they acted in self defense. Three other people were also injured.
A witness also testified that Nuñez later helped to destroy evidence, MailOnline reports.
Nuñez and the other men were initially charged with murder, and that can carry a life sentence, but the charge was reduced to voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain.
With the support of San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Fred and Kathy Santos decided to sue to overturn the commuted sentence, and argued that the former governor had violated a constitutional amendment that was voter-approved and states that victims must be notified before a decision.
However, the California appeals court upheld the ruling, and the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento agreed with the trial judge, saying that Marsy's Law doesn't apply to commuted sentences.
"Schwarzenegger's conduct could be seen as deserving of censure and grossly unjust, it was not illegal" Associate Justice Harry E. Hull Jr. said.
The prosecutor will appeal, said Steve Walker, a spokesman for Dumanis.
"Gov. Schwarzenegger deprived Esteban Nuñez's victims of an opportunity to be heard, and he violated the intent of Marsy's Law, a constitutional amendment granting victims' rights to participate in the criminal justice system," Walker said.
Frederico Santos said that he and Kathy were "very disappointed and sad" about the ruling. He said they had not decided on the next step but did not rule out an appeal.
"It's just a bad dream. It's unbelievable that this could've happened," Kathy Santos said, per CBS Sacramento. "We've seen a lot and experienced a lot and don't wish it on anybody."
Fabian Nuñez, a Democrat, served as Assembly speaker from 2004 to 2008 while Schwarzenegger was governor.
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