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Family sues Schwarzenegger over commutation of Nuñez's sentence

The parents of Luis Santos, the 22-year-old who was stabbed to death in a confrontation with the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, claim the ex-governor violated California's Victims Bill of Rights.

January 21, 2011|By Jack Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • Kathy Santos holds a photo of her son Luis, who was stabbed to death during a confrontation in San Diego in 2008. Esteban Nuez's sentence was cut from 16 years to seven by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Kathy Santos holds a photo of her son Luis, who was stabbed to death during… (Eric Risberg, Associated…)

Reporting from Sacramento — The parents of Luis Santos, a 22-year-old college student killed in a confrontation with the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, filed suit against former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento on Thursday, claiming that his decision to reduce the younger Nuñez's sentence violated California's Victims' Bill of Rights.

During his last hours in office, Schwarzenegger cut Esteban Nuñez's 16-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter to seven years, without notifying the Santos family. Schwarzenegger noted in his commutation order that Nuñez, although involved in the fight that ended in Santos' death, did not inflict the fatal knife wound.

Under the Victims' Bill of Rights, which was added to the state Constitution following a 2008 ballot measure, victims have a right to be heard "upon request" in any proceeding involving a "post-conviction release decision."

One of the Santoses' attorneys, Nina Salarno Ashford, said the family members didn't have a chance to request a hearing because they didn't know Schwarzenegger was going to take action.  The former governor had a duty to inform the family, Ashford said.

The commutation "shouldn't have been done in the eleventh hour, when you're leaving office and you don't think you're going to be held responsible," she added.

Schwarzenegger's personal assistant, Daniel Ketchell, said the former governor would "have no comment at this time." Fabian Nuñez, who was termed out of office in 2008, also declined to comment.

Days after releasing the commutation order, Schwarzenegger sent the Santos family a letter apologizing for not informing them of his decision.

Fred Santos, the victim's father, accused Schwarzenegger of reducing the sentence as a favor to Fabian Nuñez, who as Assembly speaker was often an ally of the governor's.

The suit asks the court to reinstate Nuñez's original 16-year sentence, which a San Diego judge imposed after a plea bargain that reduced the original charge of murder to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

jack.dolan@latimes.com

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