Attorneys Speak, Fabian Nunez Doesn't

SAN DIEGO -- Defense attorneys used words like "hysterical", "brazen" and "spectacle" as four men, including former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez's son, entered pleas Thursday.

Esteban Nunez, 19, Rafael Garcia, 19, Leshanor Thomas, 19, and Ryan Jett, 22, all entered pleas of not guilty for the slaying of a Mesa College student. Bail was set in the amount of $2 million, with the exception of Jett who is being held without bail on a probation violation.

Brad Patton, Esteban Nunez's defense attorney, insisted his client was not a gang member.

"(The prosecutor) stands up and makes brazen claims about gang connections but can't plead that in her pleadings," he told reporters outside court.

Fabian Nunez, his wife and his daughter, were among dozens of family members at the court. The family stood silent as the attorneys addressed the media.

Three of the defendants are from Sacramento and one is from Los Angeles. They all arrived in San Diego at the downtown jail in handcuffs Wednesday night.

The defendants are accused of jumping a group of local college students in front of SDSU's Peterson Gym back in the early morning hours of Oct. 4. Three of the victims were stabbed. One of them, 22-year old college student Luis Santos, died.

One of the defendants said "let's show them how we do it in Sac-town," said prosecutor Jill DeCarlo. "The defendants were looking for trouble and they bragged that they were all carrying knives," DiCarlo said.

Esteban Nunez's attorney suggested the defendants were acting in self-defense because one of them, Jett, was stabbed. But, the prosecutor says the victims were unarmed.

Witnesses who saw the stabbing and its aftermath gave police a troubling portrait of 19-year-old Esteban Nunez.

One witness said Nunez and his friends were furious and vowed to get revenge after they were kicked out of a fraternity party near SDSU. Another said Nunez declared that he "'got one of them"' as his group left a fight later that night.

A third described Nunez trying to destroy evidence on the banks of the Sacramento River after returning home on the day of the stabbing. Investigators have not recovered the knives used to kill Santos and injure three others.

Each defendant is charged with one count of murder, three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and a misdemeanor count of vandalism. They could face maximum sentences of life in prison if convicted of murder. 

The men are due back in court next Tuesday for a bail review hearing.

Fabian Nunez, 41, was the longest-serving speaker in California's era of legislative term limits. The Los Angeles Democrat cultivated a close relationship with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that led to their agreement on a landmark law to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California. He released a statement saying he was confident his son would be cleared of the charges.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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