Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nuñez’s son, cohort plead guilty in slaying


Esteban Nunez (left), shown at a previous hearing, and an accomplice have pleaded guilty in the stabbing death of a man on the SDSU campus.

SAN DIEGO COURTS — The son of a former California Assembly speaker and another man pleaded guilty Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter stemming from a 2008 brawl on the San Diego State University campus that ended in the death of a 22-year-old college student.

Ryan Jett, 24, and Esteban Nuñez, 21 — son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez — also pleaded guilty to two counts each of assault with a deadly weapon and admitted using a knife in the incident and causing great bodily injury.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert O’Neill ordered them held at the County Jail until a sentencing hearing scheduled for June 25, when they each could be sent to prison for up to 16 years. Both had previously been out on bail.

Jett and Nuñez are two of four defendants originally charged with murder and assault in the Oct. 4, 2008, stabbing that killed Mesa College student Luis Santos — also referred to in court as Luis Dos Santos. They entered their guilty pleas a day after jury selection began in their trial.

Co-defendants Rafael Garcia, 20, and Leshanor Thomas, 21, had already pleaded guilty to felony charges but have not been sentenced.

Garcia pleaded guilty Sept. 17 to conspiracy to destroy evidence. He faces a possible sentence of up to three years in prison.

Thomas pleaded guilty in February to assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit assault with a deadly weapon. He faces a possible sentence of up to four years and eight months in prison.

The victim’s parents, Fred and Kathy Santos of Concord, said in a phone interview Wednesday that they are glad the case is nearing an end. The loss of their son and the stress of the trial’s start have taken a toll on their close-knit family, particularly their daughter, now 25.

The parents said they would have preferred to see the defendants convicted of murder and sent to prison for life, but are relieved that they will not have to endure a lengthy appeals process.

“I think I can sleep at night without feeling regret,” Fred Santos said, adding that in this context there is no such thing as a fair outcome. “I want my son back,” he said.

Prosecutors have said the four men were on the SDSU campus and got angry when kicked out of a fraternity party. They went looking for a fight and challenged Santos and his friends on 55th Street near Peterson Gym. Santos was killed; three others were wounded.

After the fight, the men piled into a car and drove to Sacramento. Later, Nuñez, Garcia and Jett drove to the Sacramento River.

A witness said at a previous hearing that Nuñez put a plastic bag on the ground containing clothing and what looked like a knife. Jett doused the bag with gasoline and set it on fire, the witness said.

Defense attorneys have contended that their clients acted in self-defense and that others in the fight had knives. They noted that Jett was stabbed in his right leg.

A call to Fabian Nuñez’s home in Sacramento was answered Wednesday night by a person who identified herself as a family friend. She said Nuñez was not available for comment and that his family wants privacy.

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