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Schwarzenegger Takes Heat for Commuting Manslaughter Sentence of Lawmaker's Son

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Former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, right, and his son Esteban Nunez, left, leave a hearing in Superior Court in San Diego (AP)

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sunday commuted the manslaughter sentence of the son of California's former Assembly speaker, drawing criticism from the victim's family.

The outgoing governor also granted clemency to a woman who killed her former pimp in a motel room when she was 16.

The moves came just hours before Schwarzenegger left office on Monday.

Schwarzenegger said he believed the 16-year prison sentence that Esteban Nunez was serving was "excessive" in reducing his sentence from 16 years to seven years.

Nunez is the son of Fabian Nunez, a Democrat who served as Assembly speaker — one of the most powerful political leadership positions in the state — from 2004 to 2008.

Nunez pleaded guilty in May to voluntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon for his role in a fight that killed a 22-year-old man near San Diego State University in 2008.

Prosecutors said Nunez and friends went looking for a fight after they were refused entry to a fraternity party. Defense attorney Brad Patton said the men acted in self-defense after getting into a fight with the victim as they left the party.

The governor's commutation documents point out that Nunez received the same sentence as co-defendant Ryan Jett, despite the court acknowledging that Jett was the person who actually stabbed and killed Luis Dos Santos, and that Jett had a significant criminal record while Nunez had none.

"He was not the actual killer. But despite the evidence that Jett was a leader and instigator in the offense, and that he stabbed and killed Santos, the court sentenced Nunez to the same maximum prison sentence as Jett," the governor said in the order.

"Considering Nunez's limited role in the killing and his clean prior criminal record, I believe his sentence is disproportionate in comparison to Jett's."

Fred Santos, the victim's father, criticized the commutation, saying that Nunez was no less responsible than the other defendants for his son's death, and got special treatment because his father is close to the governor.

"The courts agreed this was a correct sentence, so they decided to go the political route," he said in a phone interview from his home in Concord.

"They think they can act with impunity, that they are privileged, and of course Arnold just proved they are," he said.

The Santos family learned about the decision when a reporter called to ask about it.

"I think it was very sneaky," said Kathy Santos, the victim's mother.

Paul Levikow, a spokesman for the San Diego County district attorney's office, had no comment Sunday night.

The governor also granted clemency to Sara Kruzan, who was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for the 1994 shooting death of George Gilbert Howard. Schwarzenegger reduced her sentence to 25 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors said Kruzan was no longer working for Howard when she killed him. Her clemency petition cited years of abuse and psychiatric reports saying she suffered from battered women's syndrome.

Sen. Leland Yee, who advocated for Kruzan, said she had turned her life around in prison and could be a role model for abused kids if released. Her case was the centerpiece of Yee's failed bill to allow reduction of life sentences for minors.

Schwarzenegger also issued seven pardons, one conditional pardon and one other commutation late Sunday.

Democrat Jerry Brown is scheduled to be sworn in as governor Monday morning.

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