Esteban Nunez' Family Sends Gift to Prison Official

Monday, Jan 10, 2011  |  Updated 11:51 AM PDT
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Four Suspects Arraigned in SDSU Stabbing

19 year-old Esteban Nunez.

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Esteban Nunez received the maximum sentence today for his role in the death of a local college student.

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The family of former state Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez sent a Kindle electronic reading device to an administrator in the prison where Nunez's son is imprisoned, according to prison officials.

Lt. Michelle Hamilton, an assistant to the prison warden, returned the electronic book immediately, corrections department spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said Monday. The attempt by the Nunez family to provide the gift sometime last year was first reported by The Sacramento Bee.

Esteban Nunez, who is 21, is serving a seven-year sentence for manslaughter for his role in instigating a fatal knife attack in San Diego. In one of his last acts as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger cut Nunez's sentence by more than half.

The last-minute decision prompted heavy criticism. The victim's family said it was outraged and shocked by the shorter sentence.

"I think it's absolutely despicable," said the victim's mother, Cathy Santos last week. "I think it's a huge injustice to our son."

Schwarzenegger reduced Nunez's sentence to seven years, arguing that the original sentence was "excessive," especially since Nunez didn't have any criminal history. He also mentioned that it was unjust for Nunez to serve the full sentence, when another co-defendant, Ryan Jett, inflicted the fatal wounds that killed Santos. Jett was also given a 16-year sentence.

The victim's father said the former governor's decision was morally wrong.

"The justice system did not fail us, but the political system did," said Fred Santos. "Political favoritism is alive and well in Sacramento. Bottom line: [Nunez] pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges."

The Santos family said it never got a call from Sacramento and didn't even know a commutation was being considered. The couple said it learned about the decision through the media. They said that the outcome undermines their faith in the criminal-justice system.

"[It seems] the courts don't mean a thing," Cathy said. "It sends out the message that back-door deals are fine."
 
San Diego County district attorney Bonnie Dumanis issued the following statement last week:

"We are shocked to hear of the governor's last-minute commutation, which greatly diminishes justice for victim Luis Santos and re-victimizes his family and friends. The district attorney's office was not consulted, and the decision comes as the appeals process was continuing."

Those same sentiments were echoed by San Diego city attorney Jan Goldsmith, a former superior court judge.

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced the sentence by over half to help his political crony's son," said Goldsmith. "In doing so, he undermined the judicial system and has jeopardized public safety."

Nunez may only have to serve 85 percent of his seven-year sentence.

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