On October 4, 2008, Esteban Nunez and Ryan Jett fought with Luis Dos Santos and several
others near San Diego State University. During the fight, Jett stabbed Santos to death with a
knife. Nunez did not kill Santos. Both Jett and Nunez entered a plea agreement and were
convicted for voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to the maximum term in State prison.
Santos’s death is tragic, and I do not discount the gravity of the offense. But given Nunez’s
limited role in Santos’s death, and considering that, unlike Jett, Nunez had no criminal record
prior to this offense, I believe Nunez’s sentence is excessive. Accordingly, I commute Nunez’s
sentence to the lower term for the crimes for which he was convicted: seven years in State
According to the probation report, around the time of the offense, Nunez, Jett, Rafael Garcia,
and Leshanor Thomas drank alcohol and went to a college fraternity party. They were not
admitted to the party, and they left. They drank some more, and they talked about fighting
someone. At some point, Jett saw Santos and Brandon Scheerer on the university campus.
Jett yelled at them and threw up his hands. Led by Jett, they confronted Santos and Scheerer.
Santos and Scheerer ran off in opposite directions. Santos met up with Keith Robertson, Evan
Henderson, and another person named Jason. Santos was panicked, and he said that they
were “about to be jumped by four or five guys.” Santos, Robertson, Henderson, and Jason
walked down a street to find Scheerer. At that time, Jett confronted Santos, and a fight broke
out between the two groups. Both groups had been drinking throughout the evening. The fight
occurred sometime after 2:00 a.m, and lasted between 30 and 45 seconds.
Not surprisingly, there are different versions of the fight. However, the following key facts are
not in dispute: During the fight, Jett stabbed Santos once through the chest, severing his heart.
Robertson and Henderson were also stabbed. According to Nunez’s sentencing brief, Nunez
admitted he stabbed Henderson in the stomach. Scheerer also joined the fight, and Thomas
punched him in the eye.
Jett, Nunez, Garcia, and Thomas left the scene. Thomas drove the group to Sacramento.
Once there, they went to the Sacramento River, burned their clothes, and threw their knives in
the river. Nunez was 19 years old at the time of the offense, and he had no previous criminal record. He
subsequently pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter with the use of a knife. He also pled guilty to
assaulting Henderson and Robertson with a deadly weapon, and he admitted that he inflicted
great bodily injury on Henderson and Robertson. Nunez was sentenced to an aggregate term
of 16 years in state prison. The court imposed the maximum 11-year sentence for voluntary
manslaughter, plus one year for using a knife. The court also sentenced Nunez to one year for
assaulting Henderson with a deadly weapon, plus one year for inflicting great bodily injury.
Similarly, the court sentenced Nunez to one year for assaulting Robertson with a deadly
weapon, plus one year for inflicting great bodily injury.
Having been once convicted of a felony, Nunez applied for a commutation of his sentence on
the ground that his sentence is disproportionate in comparison to Jett’s sentence.
Like Nunez, Jett also pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter with the use of a knife and two
counts of assault with a deadly weapon, each enhanced for inflicting great bodily injury. And
like Nunez, Jett was sentenced to 16 years in state prison. He too received the maximum 11-
year term for voluntary manslaughter.
But at Jett’s sentencing hearing, the court told Jett, “I believe a fair reading of the evidence,
including logical inferences from the circumstantial evidence, is that you were the person that
actually caused the death of Mr. Dos Santos by inflicting the knife wound to his chest area.”
The court also said that Jett “killed Luis Dos Santos. He severed his heart. He cut through the
ribs.” In addition, Jett was identified as occupying a position of leadership in the offense. “I
believe,” the court said, “that the best evidence is that you were the person who started the
confrontation, if you will, and confronted Mr. Santos.”
On the other hand, the court acknowledged at Nunez’s sentencing hearing that Nunez, “pled to
aiding and abetting” in the death of Santos. 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.
Moreover, Nunez and Jett had very different criminal backgrounds, and this fact deserved
greater weight at Nunez’s sentencing. This offense was Nunez’s first, and he had no prior
criminal record. In contrast, the court told Jett at his sentencing hearing, “Your convictions as
an adult are numerous and in increasing seriousness.” The court also noted that Jett was on
probation at the time of the offense, and that he had been given chances on probation and to
rehabilitate himself. But, the court indicated, his performance, “quite frankly, is a dismal failure.”
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. The lower terms for voluntary
manslaughter (three years) and assault with a deadly weapon (1′.’10 years each) would be more
appropriate in light of these differences.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, Governor of the State of California, in
accordance with the authority vested in me by the Constitution and statutes of the State of
California, hereby commute Esteban Nunez’s 16-year sentence to seven years in State prison.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State
of California to be affixed this 31st day of December, 2010.
Governor of California
Secretary of State