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Schwarzenegger defends 11th-hour sentence reduction for Nuñez's son

The former California governor tells Newsweek: 'I feel good about the decision' to cut prison time for ex-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez's son, who pleaded guilty in the beating death of a college student.

April 20, 2011|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
  • Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) make an appearance in 2008.
Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez… (Robert Durell / Los Angeles…)

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger justified his 11th-hour sentence reduction for the son of a fellow Sacramento politician, saying that "of course you help a friend" and that he felt good about the decision.

Schwarzenegger came under heavy fire for the move, which took place hours before he left office in January. In May, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez's son Esteban accepted a plea deal in the death of Luis Santos, a 22-year-old college student. Schwarzenegger decided to reduce the sentence from 16 years to seven years, infuriating prosecutors as well as the victim's family members, who were not notified beforehand.

"I understand people's disappointments. I understand the parents' anger. I would probably feel the same way," Schwarzenegger told Newsweek in an article published Sunday. "My office definitely made a mistake in not notifying the parents beforehand … and I'm ultimately responsible.

"I feel good about the decision.... I happen to know the kid really well. I don't apologize about it," said Schwarzenegger, who noted in his commutation order that Esteban Nuñez, 21, did not deliver the fatal wound. "There's criticism out there. I think it's just because of our working relationship and all that. It maybe was kind of saying, 'That's why he did it.' Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend."

Schwarzenegger made the remarks in a wide-ranging interview in London in which he also discussed failed gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman; his wife, Maria Shriver; and his aging physique.

Schwarzenegger deliberately stayed on the sidelines in the race to replace him, declining to endorse Whitman, a fellow Republican. But in the interview, the movie star criticized the former EBay chief and billionaire as too conservative and praised the campaign tactics of the Democrat who succeeded him, Jerry Brown.

"She kind of took herself out of the game," Schwarzenegger said. "What she did was play to the right, and she couldn't come back for the general election to grab the center.... Brown was very smart to do exactly the opposite of what she did — which was to say, 'I'm not a rich guy, all I have is my knowledge and experience, and I don't need to cater to anyone, I will do what is right for California.' She was not as effective as a communicator, and her ideas were too extreme."

The former Mr. Universe also opined about the effects of age on his body.

"I'm not competing, I'm not ripping off my shirt and trying to sell the body," Schwarzenegger said. "But when I stand in front of the mirror and really look, I wonder: What … happened here? Jesus Christ. What a beating!"

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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