A True Injustice: Schwarzenegger Commutes Sentence of Esteban Nunez

Background of the Crime


On October 4th, 2008 Esteban Nunez, son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, and 3 other accomplices, Ryan Jett, Rafael Garcia, and Leshanor Thomas, arrived at a Cal State San Diego fraternity party under the influence of alcohol, and were subsequently not admitted to the party by Luis Dos Santos, a 22 year old student at near-by San Diego Mesa College.


Nunez and the other 3 accomplices left the party, and spent the rest of the evening drinking alcohol and “looking for a fight”. Around 2 o’clock a.m., Nunez and the other 3 accomplices “ran into” Dos Santos and 3 other students, Keith Robertson, Evan Henderson, and “Jason”, near a university gym. Jett “threw up his hands”, and a fight broke out between the two groups. In the end, Dos Santos was dead of a stab wound to the neck, and Robertson, Henderson, and “Jason” lay bleeding from multiple stab wounds throughout their bodies. Nunez and the other 3 accomplices immediately left the scene and drove to Sacramento, where they destroyed the evidence by burning their clothes, and throwing the knives used in the attack, into the Sacramento River. It wasn’t long however, before police caught up to Nunez and the 3 others, and placed them under arrest on multiple charges, including murder.


On June 25th, 2010, Nunez and Jett accepted a plea bargain, and plead guilty to lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter with an enhancement of using a knife, and assault with a deadly weapon. In doing so, they were able to avoid a possible term of life in prison, in exchange for a 16 year total sentence. In California, with “good time/work time” credit, their sentences can be cut in half, which makes them eligible for release after serving only 8 years. Not bad for someone who committed murder, and stabbed three others! At the time of the sentencing, many Californians believed that the sentence was far too lenient for the crimes committed, and that Nunez’s father, being a former prominent politician, had been able to exercise some influence and that favoritism had been shown toward his son.


Background of the Relationship between Fabian Nunez and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger


Fabian Nunez, father of Esteban Nunez, was elected to the California State Assembly in 2002. In 2004, he was selected to be the Speaker-of-the-Assembly, a position he kept until he was termed out of office in 2008. As Speaker, he formed a close working relationship with then, newly-elected Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.


While in office, Nunez worked closely with Schwarzenegger, and authored California AB 32, California’s landmark global warming law, which is widely seen as the crown jewel of the Schwarzenegger administration.


After being termed out of office in 2006, Nunez went on to form Mercury Public Affairs, a “high stakes public strategy firm”, with Schwarzenegger’s former chief political advisor, Adam Mendelsohn.


Today’s Injustice


With today being Schwarzenegger’s last day in office before Governor-Elect Jerry Brown is sworn in tomorrow, Schwarzenegger was busy with last minute appointments, commutations, and pardons. Buried in a heap of press releases emailed to reporters today, was a commutation for Esteban Nunez, reducing his prison sentence from 16 years to the minimum of 7 years. Again, with “good time/work time” credits, Nunez can be out of prison in as little as 3 ½ years.


Flying in the face of California’s constitution, which carries with it the Victim’s Bill of Rights, none of the victim’s, or their families, were made aware of the commutation until faced with it by reporters wanting to know their reactions. Fred Santos, father of murder victim Luis Dos Santos, was “outraged”, and is quoted further as saying, For the governor to wait until the last day in hopes it would fly under the radar is an absolute injustice.” Mr. Santos is right, and unfortunately for him, there is little he can do. In California, the Governor has sole authority in this arena, and is able to commute or pardon anyone he or she chooses. Mr. Santos does not even have the pleasure of voting against Schwarzenegger in any upcoming elections, as today is Schwarzenegger’s last day in office, and he has already said that it is unlikely that he will run for any other offices in the future.


Schwarzenegger truly went above and beyond reason and logic in commuting Nunez’s sentence. In writing the commutation, Schwarzenegger notes that Nunez had no prior criminal history, and that it was Jett who actually committed the murder, and not Nunez. Schwarzenegger goes further by saying that Nunez’s sentence was excessive and “disproportionate in comparison to Jett’s”, who received the same sentence. When examining the facts however, the following is true:

1)      By law, California does not recognize any difference between a person who commits a crime, and their accomplices. In other words, if you assist or a part of a murder or assault in any way, you are just as guilty as the person who physically perpetuated the murder or assault.

2)      While Jett may have been the person directly responsible for the death of Luis Dos Santos, Nunez admitted that it was he who assaulted and stabbed Evan Henderson, and Keith Robertson.

3)      Nunez and his accomplices fled the scene.

4)      Nunez and his accomplices destroyed the evidence by lighting their clothes on fire and throwing the knives used in the attack, into the Sacramento River.


Any other person, whether this being their first conviction or not, would now be serving a life sentence in state prison. In fact, California’s prisons are filled with young first-timers serving life sentences for similar, and lesser, offenses. Nunez is not serving a “disproportionate” sentence and is, in fact, serving a much more lenient sentence compared with similar criminals.


While the victim’s and their families have had to suffer, not only with the tragic loss of a son, but also with their own wounds, Fabian Nunez has tried continuously to ensure that his son serves the bare minimum for his horrific crimes. Esteban Nunez was already lucky once, when he was offered, and accepted, a plea deal of only 16 years in prison. Today goes above luck for Nunez, and shows just how far and corrupt California’s lawmakers truly are. For the chance to serve only 3 ½ years for murder and assault with a deadly weapon is unheard of, and for good reason: people who commit such crimes are horrific human beings who regard any lack of respect for other human beings. Additionally, the only lesson Nunez will learn is that so long as you have power, you can get away with anything, including murder!


Esteban Nunez deserved a life sentence, but barring that, he ABSOLUTELY deserved to serve every single day of his 16 year sentence. While Nunez will be out of prison in only a handful of years, free to enjoy life and spend time with his family, a father continues to grieve for the loss of his son, and will now spend tonight wondering where the justice was.