SACRAMENTO, California – California Republican Party delegates on Sunday denounced the decision by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to commute the manslaughter sentence of the son of a political ally, saying the action undermined the party's message of being tough on crime while advocating for the rights of victims.
The resolution approved during the state party's spring convention in Sacramento condemns the former Republican governor's action, which reduced Esteban Nunez's prison sentence from 16 years to seven. Nunez, the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a Democrat, pleaded guilty for his role in the 2008 stabbing death of a college student in San Diego.
Schwarzenegger's action during his final night in office angered the San Diego County district attorney and enraged the victim's family. The governor's office did not notify either party before the decision.
The resolution said the state Republican Party stands for tough punishment "for murderers and violent criminals" and notes that the party's platform includes a statement saying victims' rights are paramount.
Schwarzenegger's action, it said, "created the appearance that a favor was done" for Fabian Nunez, who was one of Schwarzenegger's closest allies in the Legislature and worked with him to pass California's landmark greenhouse gas emissions law, which Schwarzenegger cites as one of his legacy accomplishments.
"Now, therefore be it resolved, that the California Republican Party condemns the commutation of the prison sentence for Esteban Nunez and further condemns the manner in which it was done, without concern for the victims and their suffering, and without respect for the message this action will send to potential criminals with connections to those in power," the resolution states.
The resolution was approved without comment from the delegates. A spokesman for Schwarzenegger, Daniel Ketchell, said the former governor declined to comment.
Esteban Nunez and others were convicted in the stabbing death of 22-year-old Luis Santos, a business student at San Diego's Mesa College. Prosecutors say Nunez and his friends from Sacramento were upset about being kicked out of a fraternity party, had been drinking alcohol and were seeking revenge when they encountered a group of unarmed students that included Santos.
Three others were injured in the attack on the campus of San Diego State University, including two people stabbed by Esteban Nunez. The group then fled to Sacramento, where prosecutors say they hid and destroyed evidence.
According to court documents, a co-defendant told police that Esteban Nunez assured him he would "take the rap" for whatever happened and that "hopefully his dad would take care of it and could get them off on self-defense."
Nunez, 21, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.
Santos' parents have filed a lawsuit seeking to restore the sentence under a state law ensuring that victims have advance notice of legal proceedings and the right to fight early release of felons.
Schwarzenegger's action also has prompted a number of bills seeking to reduce the governor's clemency powers or ensure that victims' families are notified before such decisions are made public.
In his clemency statement, Schwarzenegger said the 16-year sentence given to Nunez was "excessive," in part because he was not the one who inflicted the fatal wound on Santos and had no prior criminal record. After extensive media reporting about the commutation, Schwarzenegger wrote a letter to Santos' parents acknowledging that his last-minute action provided no notice.