Thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man convicted of my brother's stabbing death, Esteban Nuñez, will officially be out of jail and back on the streets in 2016. Hide your knives. Hide your kids, your frogs, and your cats. He's coming. 

Photo Source: Esteban's Myspace Page, Courtesy: Latino Politics Blog

Yep, that’s Esteban Nuñez above, putting a bloody knife to a frog. According to court transcripts, one of his friends had witnessed him stabbing the frog, and later told investigators. 

You know who else was an innocent little frog? My 22-year-old brother, Luis “Lu” Santos. 

Back in 2008, Lu and his friends were walking across the campus of San Diego State University when four men from Sacramento jumped them with knives. Lu died while his attackers fled. 

The four men responsible for the fight—Esteban Nuñez, Ryan Jett, Rafael Garcia, and Leshanor Thomas—drove back up to Sacramento in the dark of night. According to the Sheriff's report, the following day, they bought $1.30 worth of gasoline and drove to the Sacramento River where they burned Esteban and Ryan's clothing. After that, a key witness stated the two of them tossed their tainted knives in the water and made a pact with the others to never talk about the incident or evidence burning again.

Unfortunately for them, one of their friends had already talked, which spawned an investigation that would later land Esteban and Ryan in prison.

Why would Schwarzenegger commute his sentence? Because Esteban’s dad is Fabian Nuñez, Schwarzenegger’s former right hand man on the political circuit.

Esteban Nuñez and Ryan Jett were arrested three months later in December of 2008. But despite Esteban's seemingly troubled personality, powerful influencers came forward like former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Senator Kevin DeLeon. They were among 70 notable people who wrote letters to the judge vouching for Esteban's "good" character and asking that his two million dollar bail be reduced on grounds that he was "considerate, gentle, and well mannered." The request from these politicians was successful. Esteban Nuñez's bail was reduced to half and he walked free upon payment until June of 2010, when he and Ryan Jett took a plea bargain that resulted in a 16-year jail sentence for each. Nuñez and Jett were found equally guilty in my brother's death because they had acted together, and it was never clear which one of them had actually stabbed Lu. It was clear however, that Esteban had stabbed Lu's two other friends during the fight, Keith Robertson and Evan Henderson. Robertson and Henderson were lucky not to have died as their wounds were serious. 

All was well with Esteban Nuñez and Ryan Jett behind bars until Arnold Schwarzenegger granted Esteban clemency. In a back door deal carried out during the final hours of his governorship, Schwarzenegger commuted Esteban's sentence, reducing it from 16 years to where he would serve just seven.

Why would Schwarzenegger commute his sentence? Because Esteban’s dad is Fabian Nuñez, Schwarzenegger’s former right hand man on the political circuit. Fabian was the California Assembly speaker at the time, and Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign National Co-Chairman the year of Lu’s death.

Photo Source: Associated Press (Fabian Nuñez/Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Thanks to Schwarzenegger’s dirty politics, Esteban Nuñez, will be back on the streets early in 2016. Unfortunately, our appeal to overturn the commutation was unsuccessful. Once again, justice was not on our side. Instead, "justice" was on the side of putting a killer back on the streets. 

The judge, in yesterday's proceedings, stated, "As reprehensible as the Governor’s action in this instance might have been, it would be equally reprehensible to ignore the clear language of a constitutional provision.”

After all of these events, there's nothing left I can do but share my story with the world. Maybe it will have the power to inspire change of some sort. So I'm doing just that. Here is an excerpt from the book I'm writing all about it, "In Lu of Justice." 

Chapter 01

At 10:30 on the morning of Saturday, October 4, 2008, San Diego County Deputy Medical Examiner Steven Campman arrived at the campus of San Diego State University. He was there to prepare, package, and remove the body of a student who had been brutally stabbed to death. The homicide took place in the middle of 55th Street between Cox Arena—home stadium of the SDSU Aztecs basketball team—and the university’s Peterson Gym. The usual morning rush of students stretching on the sidewalk in yoga pants and tennis shoes was scarce. Instead, busy bodies and police officers swarmed the area in a frenzy, trying to piece together the violence that occurred several hours earlier.

Campman shivered as he walked along the palm tree lined avenue toward the scene of the crime. The recent death of summer put a somber chill in the air. Fall had officially arrived alongside the first semester of a new school year as always, but unlike every year before this one would be different. The murder would loom over campus like a dark cloud, haunting students as they passed the memorial that marked the place where the victim fell. It would serve as a warning to students that nowhere was truly safe, not even the grounds of a well-populated college.

The medical examiner spotted what could have only been the lump of a body, partially covered by a yellow rescue blanket. As he got closer, he saw the victim’s arms and legs extend out like a starfish. Because this was a homicide, police had left the corpse waiting for the medical examiner’s arrival as he was legally the only person allowed to touch the decedent after paramedics called time of death. Campman bent down and slowly lifted the covering. Nearby spectators craned their necks and whispered from a safe distance as they tried to get a look at the person underneath, an ethnically ambiguous twenty-something male with dark hair lying face up in a pool of blood. The unveiling revealed that remnants of medical intervention were still on the body. This included a plastic device placed in the victim’s mouth to hold the airway open and defibrillator pads, which were stuck to the victim’s chest. The young man was thin for someone just under six-feet tall. Campman deduced that he must have weighed no more than 145 pounds. Facial injuries to the victim’s left orbital area provided evidence that he had been punched or struck.

Campman inspected the body further and observed post-mortem changes. The victim’s limbs were stiff, cold, and had lost the color of life. A horizontal stab wound was also visible on the young man’s exposed chest, between his nipple and breastbone. The autopsy would later reveal that it measured over one inch long by three and a half inches deep. The left ventricle of the heart and upper lobe of the left lung were severed, while the fifth rib was incised and the sixth partially cut.

Campman documented the shape of the wound’s entry points and found that the tip in the center of the body was more squared than the one toward the outside. This indicated a single-edged knife was the weapon responsible. What the medical examiner knew of these types of stabbings was that they resulted in exsanguination, blood loss to a degree sufficient enough to cause death. A collection of blood measuring more than a half-liter, pooling in the victim’s chest cavity, confirmed Campman’s theory. The blood had spilled out onto the victim’s clothing and limbs, ultimately trickling to the ground below.

Blood was also smeared on the parking sign next to the body. The height at which the red dribble began led Campman to believe that after being stabbed, the young man bent over and rested on the sign. Based on his professional expertise, the medical examiner knew that the victim would have gone into hypovolemic shock next. Abrasions across the forehead, and the fact that blood was under the body suggested that the young man then fell face-down into the plants surrounding the sign before turning over and dying on his back.

Finally, Campman observed the decedent’s attire. The young man wore a white tank top under a short-sleeved grey and blue plaid button up. He also wore a pair of jeans adorned by a black leather belt with a white metal buckle. In his pant pockets were a lighter, pack of cigarettes, key ring, cell phone, and wallet, which the medical examiner rifled through in search of a driver’s license. When he found it, he identified the victim as 22-year-old Luis Santos, my little brother.

Chapter 02

October 4, 2008

The buzz of a voicemail notification nagged from my cell phone. I yawned and wondered who was calling so early on a Saturday morning. It was Navid, my brother’s best friend from childhood. I yawned again and smooshed the phone between my ear and shoulder as the message played.

“Brigida, I need you to call me back as soon as you can,” Navid’s voice said on the recording. “Lu got jumped last night. It’s really bad...I need to talk to you.”

Lu was the nickname my brother’s friends gave him in grade school. Unlike the twenty nicknames I was given by people who had difficulty pronouncing my Portuguese name, Lu actually stuck.

Navid’s words echoed and I panicked while playing out every terrible scenario in my mind: twenty fists and boots mauling Lu’s face, a robbery at gunpoint, a beating so hard it left him with brain damage. I called Navid back.

“Hello?” he answered after the first ring. His voice teeter-tottered.

“Navid, what’s going on?” I asked.

“Last night Luis and Brandon got jumped,” he said. “Keith, Evan, and Jason too. They got stabbed and someone died,” he added. He whimpered and sucked in a deep stuttering breath. “Brigida, I think Lu is dead.” He cried like a man trying not to cry. “I should have been there. He came over last night. Before some parties. Asked me to go with him. I was studying. I should have been there.”

“You think Luis is what?” I asked in disbelief. I braced myself and tried to stay calm but my heart thumped inside my ears and pulsed in my forehead. Sickness churned in my stomach.

“I don’t know for sure, but that’s what I’ve heard from everyone,” he added.

“I’ve got to go." I hung up without a goodbye. Someone died. My hands shook as I dialed my brother’s number. I dropped the phone and fumbled to catch it when I heard the gravel of his voice on the receiving end.

“Hey, this is Luis, leave a message.”

“Maybe no one actually died,” I said, unsure whether or not I believed my own words. “Maybe they’re all fine.”

“Yeah,” Navid said. “Maybe it wasn’t Lu. Sometimes things get mixed up and blown out of proportion.”

“Let’s try to figure out what really happened, okay?” I ran to the computer and tapped the buttons on the mouse to wake the screen but it was slow to start. The monitor blinked black for a frustrating minute too long. When it finally awoke, it emitted a high-pitched ring, one that was almost inaudible, like a sound on an audio frequency only a dog would detect.

“Go to the university website and look at police reports,” Navid said.

I typed in the address he recited and scrolled down the page to an article about a knife fight that broke out in front of the Peterson Gym. “One victim perished," I read out loud. "No names have been released yet.” My fingers bounced across the keyboard asking Google for answers. The story was too fresh to pull results. “Nothing’s coming up,” I said. “But at least it doesn’t say his name.”

“Brigida,” Navid said.

“I’ve got to go." I hung up without a goodbye. Someone died. My hands shook as I dialed my brother’s number. I dropped the phone and fumbled to catch it when I heard the gravel of his voice on the receiving end.

“Hey, this is Luis, leave a message.”


Lu was a late bloomer, always so skinny and small. He didn’t blossom until the end of his senior year in high school, after I had already begun my freshman year of college in Los Angeles. We spoke over the phone weekly and I noticed the gradual change in his voice, but his transition into manhood wasn’t confirmed until I went back to the Bay Area to visit during my first spring break.

I arrived at the front stoop of the house I grew up in and smiled as I looked at the familiar blue and red stained glass window that hung overhead. I was home. Lu opened the door to greet me as soon as I drummed my knuckles to the wood. “Sister,” he said while wrapping his arms around me in the most genuine of hugs. He pronounced the word as if it was two, enunciating, “Sis. Ter.”

School papers and bloodshot eyes momentarily paused but my role at home resumed where it left off eight months before when he and I were both children still living under the same roof.

“Oh my lord,” I said. “You’re so tall. And your voice,” I gasped for dramatic effect. “You must have grown five inches,” I said. I reached until my longest finger grazed his buzzed head. “This is a big moment,” I said.

Up until then, I’d only ever known him as a boy. But there I stood—face to shoulder—meeting Luis, the man. “Guess this means you’re no longer my little brother,” I said. He was proudly featuring whatever physical proof he had of being an adult via the very beginning sprouts of what was supposed to be a mustache and goatee combo.

“What is this?” I asked while poking the baby fuzz on his upper lip with my index finger. It felt like a caterpillar, the soft kind with sparse hairs clinging to its back.

He turned his face away and rejected my hand. “Dammit, I’m a man and men have facial hair,” he said.

“I missed you,” I said. We laughed at his ridiculousness.


I hung up and called him again. And again. I called our parents.

“Hello?” they said together over speakerphone.

“Dad, I just talked to Navid,” I whispered.

“He told us,” my dad said while cutting me off, his voice a notch too loud. “We’ll call you back as soon as we get in contact with the hospital or police.” He sounded more concerned than I had ever heard him in my life.

“Please be okay,” I pleaded to the sky. “Please be okay.”

The gloom of pregnant clouds outside set an ominous tone to what was shaping up to be a dreary day. I hoped it wouldn’t rain.

For a more in depth article, see Christopher Goffard's report, "Knives, Death, and a Famous Name" in the LA Times

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.

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