Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with Smokey the Bear. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with Smokey the Bear. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger acted within his legal rights when he commuted the sentence of a political ally’s son who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for a fatal stabbing near San Diego State University, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The Third District Court of Appeal ruled that Schwarzenegger’s action “could be seen as deserving of censure and grossly unjust,” but it was “not illegal.”

One of Schwarzenegger’s final acts as governor in early 2011 was to reduce the sentence of Esteban Nunez from the original 16 years to just seven years. Nunez is the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

Esteban Nunez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault in connection with the October 2008 stabbing death of 22-year-old Luis Santos during a group fight near the San Diego State University campus.

Santos’ relatives and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office blasted the decision and went to court in hopes of overturning the decision. Santos’ family said they were never informed that a commutation was even under consideration.

In 2012, however, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly ruled that the voter-approved Marsy’s Law doesn’t require a governor to notify victims and their families before deciding a clemency petition.

The appeals court panel agreed, saying the law “does not restrict the executive’s clemency powers” under the state Constitution.

Schwarzenegger was quoted in Newsweek magazine in 2011 as saying, “Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend,” in reference to his ties with Fabian Nunez.

In addition to Nunez, Ryan Jett also pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault for instigating the SDSU melee, in which two of Santos’ friends were stabbed and another friend was punched in the eye, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Two others — Leshanor Thomas and Rafael Garcia — pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Prosecutors said the defendants went looking for a fight after they were kicked out of a fraternity party at SDSU. They fought with the victims’ group near Peterson Gym.

— City News Service

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