Outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has commuted the prison sentence of the son of a former state Assembly speaker, cutting his sentence from 16 years to 7 years in the 2008 killing of a Concord man.
The move came just hours before Schwarzenegger was to leave office.
In 2009, Esteban Nuñez, son of Fabian Nuñez, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of Luis Dos Santos, 22, during a fight in San Diego. He and co-defendant Ryan Jett were sentenced to 16 years in prison, the maximum sentence.
Santos, who was attending San Diego Mesa College, was killed in a fight between two groups of men near San Diego State on Oct. 4, 2008. Jett confessed to stabbing Santos; Esteban Nuñez confessed to stabbing another man in the stomach, according to Schwarzenegger's commutation order. Santos' father said it was a cowardly political deal by the governor.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger knows this was wrong, that's why he waited until the last minute to try to sneak it by," Fred Santos said from his Concord home.
Santos said the family was not warned about the impending commutation and learned about it Sunday from media members.
"The governor did not even have the courtesy to notify the victim's family," Santos said. "This is dirty politics: cutting backroom deals. I guess if you're the son of somebody important you can kill someone and get all sorts of breaks."
A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the governor's office would have no further comment beyond the news release and statement it sent Sunday.
Nuñez was sentenced under a plea deal; he had been charged with murder, for which he could have received life in prison. Judges have denied his appeals for a lesser sentence.
"(The Nuñez family) has been filing appeals through the courts, and they have been losing every one of them because the courts know that this is a fair sentence," Santos said.
Fabian Nuñez, a Democrat with whom Schwarzenegger pushed landmark legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, is now a political consultant in a firm with Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger's former communications director.
Schwarzenegger's commutation order cites Esteban Nuñez's lack of criminal history and the fact that he was not the one who stabbed Santos. So Nuñez deserved a shorter sentence than Jett, his co-defendant who had a lengthy criminal record and was the one who stabbed Santos, according to the order.
After the judge imposed the sentences in June, Fabian Nuñez said angrily that his son had been led to believe by the judge that he would receive a sentence of seven to 11 years and that his son would not have pleaded guilty if he had known the sentence would be 16 years.
Brad Patton, Esteban Nuñez's trial attorney, said he felt his client was given the maximum because the judge was concerned about appearing to be lenient to the son of a powerful political figure.
"The governor's decision is a reflection of what this case would have been like if politics had not been involved," Patton said.
Schwarzenegger also commuted two other prison sentences.
Sara Kruzan, who was 16 when she ambushed and killed her former pimp in a Southern California motel room, will now serve 25 years to life in prison, instead of life without the possibility of parole.
Alberto Torres, who killed his niece's boyfriend after he drunkenly argued with her, had his sentence reduced from 25 years to life in prison to a fixed term of 10 years. He has already served 11 years; he testified that he shot at Torres' vehicle because he thought Torres was trying to run over him.
The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee contributed to this report. Contact Paul Thissen at 925-943-8163. Follow him at Twitter.com/pthissen.