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Parents sue Schwarzenegger over commutation

January 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The parents of a slain college student are taking Arnold Schwarzenegger to court. They're shocked and angered he reduced the prison sentence of the son of one of his political allies."By commuting the sentence of one of our son's killers, Arnold Schwarzenegger committed a gross injustice."

One of Arnold Schwarzenegger's last acts as California governor has triggered legal action. He's being sued by the parents of a slain college student, determined to reverse his decision to reduce the prison sentence of one of those convicted of his murder.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the Capitol at the Superior Court of Sacramento. It claims an 11th-hour move was illegal and unconstitutional.

"He messed with the wrong family," said Kathy Santos, Luis Santos's mother.

Surrounded by pictures of Luis Santos, the family of the 22-year-old murdered college student said they cannot let what they call an injustice prevail.

One of the men convicted of Santos's murder, Esteban Nunez, got his sentence reduced from 16 years to seven by then-Governor Schwarzenegger just hours before he left office.

The move sparked outraged because Nunez is the son of a Schwarzenegger ally, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who the family says may have used his influence to call in a favor.

"It was the other father, the criminal's father, that acted with emotion, that interfered with justice. This was a political interference on the judicial system," said Luis's father, Fred Santos.

Despite an apology letter from Schwarzenegger, the Santos family has filed a lawsuit claiming the commutation was illegal under "Marsy's Law," passed to protect victims' rights.

The family says they should have been notified before the commutation.

"He betrayed all victims of California when he betrayed the Santos family," said Nina Salarno Ashford, attorney for the Santos family.

Fabian Nunez and Schwarzenegger did not respond to Eyewitness News phone calls, but have said the sentence was excessive considering Esteban was not the one who fatally stabbed Santos.

Brad Patton, attorney for Esteban Nunez said: "I do not believe their lawsuit would have any impact on the commutation of Esteban's sentence because the rules and regulations were followed and because Marsy's Law does not apply to the executive decision-making power of the Governor related to pardons and commutations."

The Santos lawsuit seeks no compensation, only that the 16-year sentence be restored.

Some legal analysts say the case is a stretch.

"The governor's power to pardon or commute sentences is something that goes back even before the American Constitution, and it's virtually unassailable," said legal analyst Dean Johnson.

Kathy and Fred Santos say they are ready to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Meanwhile, a proposal to force governors to notify families of commutations 30 days in advance is working its way through the state Legislature.


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