January 4, 2011 / 3:10 AM / 7 years ago

Schwarzenegger criticized after commuting Nunez sentence

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Arnold Schwarzenegger drew fire on Monday for his 11th-hour decision as California governor to commute the prison term of an influential former state legislator’s son convicted in the stabbing death of a college student.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gestures during his appearance at the Women's Conference 2010 in Long Beach, California, in this October 26, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

Esteban Nunez, the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon for his role in a 2008 drunken brawl near San Diego State University that led to the death of Luis Santos.

Schwarzenegger, in one of his last acts as governor on Sunday, shortened Esteban Nunez’s sentence to seven years.

He noted in his commutation order that co-defendant Ryan Jett, who pleaded guilty to the same charges as Esteban Nunez, had inflicted the fatal stab wound to Santos, and had other felony convictions.

Esteban Nunez, who was 19 at the time of the fight and lacked a prior criminal record, later admitted to stabbing another victim in the stomach, according to the governor’s statement. That person survived.

On Monday, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, whose office prosecuted Nunez, condemned Schwarzenegger’s decision as a miscarriage of justice.

“We were shocked to hear of the governor’s last-minute commutation,” she said.

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said in a separate rebuke of Schwarzenegger that the former governor acted to “help his political crony’s son.”

“I speak for the overwhelming majority of San Diegans in stating that we are appalled and angry over Mr. Schwarzenegger’s conduct,” Goldsmith said. “It reflects poorly on him, personally, and on his legacy as governor.”

Schwarzenegger, a Republican whose seven years in office ended on Tuesday with the inauguration of Democrat Jerry Brown, said Nunez’s original 16-year sentence was “excessive” in comparison with the same prison term imposed on Jett.

An editorial on the website of San Francisco Bay-area newspaper Contra Costa Times called Schwarzenegger a “sleazy politician” for granting the commutation.

“The governor, who offensively branded his opponents as ‘girlie men,’ turned out to be a spineless coward who couldn’t say no when former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez came asking for special treatment for his ... son,” the editorial said.

Nunez, a prominent Los Angeles Democrat whose six years as a state legislator included four years as Assembly speaker, left office in late 2008.

Schwarzenegger, capitalizing on his popularity as a Hollywood action hero, was elected governor in a historic 2003 recall campaign that unseated then-incumbent Democratic Governor Gray Davis.

A representative for Schwarzenegger could not be reached for comment on Monday.

But Charles Sevilla, an attorney for Esteban Nunez, said Schwarzenegger made the right choice in commuting the sentence, noting that Jett had prior convictions and was the assailant who stabbed Santos.

“I heard nothing that Fabian Nunez made any requests for assistance” in the case, Sevilla said.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune

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