Four Sacramento men, including the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, went looking for revenge after being turned away from a fraternity party the night a San Diego college student was stabbed to death, then tried to destroy evidence, according to an arrest warrant released Wednesday.
Esteban Nunez, 19, and the others returned to San Diego on Wednesday to face murder charges, a day after they were arrested in Sacramento.
The teenage son of former Speaker Fabian Nunez and three others arrested for the stabbing of a San Diego college student tried to destroy evidence, according to an arrest warrant.
They are charged with one count of murder, three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and a misdemeanor count of vandalism for the Oct. 2 death and face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of murder.
An arrest warrant filed in San Diego paints a picture of a group of friends who went out looking for trouble and then tried to cover up their actions. Police said they had gone to San Diego to party.
After being turned away from a fraternity party near San Diego State University, Esteban Nunez and the others went to a friend's apartment, where they drank beer and rum.
The friend, Briana Perez, described people in her apartment becoming increasingly agitated about being rejected from the party. Some said, "Let's go burn down their house" and "Let's show them how we do it in Sac-Town," according to the warrant.
Perez told police that Nunez and Rafael Garcia did most of the talking. Garcia, Ryan Jett and Leshanor Thomas, all 19, face the same charges as Nunez.
The four left the apartment and later encountered a group of men leaving a fraternity party about 2 a.m. Two of the stabbing victims interviewed in the hospital told police they were challenged to a fight. Their assailants called them "punks" and other names.
"They were walking down the street, there was a verbal exchange. It escalated into a physical altercation and eventually into the stabbing," San Diego Police Capt. Jim Collins said.
A felony complaint filed in San Diego County Superior Court said the defendants used a knife or multiple knives to stab the four men. Luis Santos, a 22-year-old student at San Diego Mesa College, died at the scene. The stab wound "sliced through the bottom of his heart," according to the arrest warrant.
"We're not going to go into the details of each one of them, but they all acted in concert," Collins said.
Police had not recovered any weapons. It was unclear how many knives were used in the attack, but the arrest warrant quotes a witness as saying Nunez and Jett tried to hide the knives and destroy other evidence.
One of the defendants, Thomas, told investigators the group went to a friend's home in San Diego after the confrontation. He saw one of the men cleaning the knives while Jett and Nunez washed clothes in the kitchen sink. They then put the clothes in a plastic bag, which Thomas thought they brought back to Sacramento, according to the warrant.
A friend on the trip who was not charged says he went with Esteban Nunez and Jett to a spot along the Sacramento River near Nunez's apartment. The friend, John Murray, told police the two placed knives in a plastic shopping bag and prepared to burn a shirt and a hat. They had filled a plastic cup with gasoline at a 7-Eleven, according to the warrant.
"They had a hat and a shirt they burned and they had their knives in a bag," Murray told investigators. "I walked back to my car and said 'You guys do what you have to do.'"
Murray said he didn't actually see any items catch fire.
Police said they traced the suspects to Sacramento almost immediately based on witness accounts in San Diego. Detectives had searched the Northern California homes of all four suspects about a week after the October stabbing.
They are scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday.
Fabian Nunez, 41, flew with his wife and two younger children to San Diego on Wednesday and released a statement saying he had faith in the justice system.
"This is a very difficult and painful experience for every family involved. Maria and I love our children very much," he said. "We are confident our son Esteban will be cleared of the charges he is facing."
He referred media inquiries to Carlsbad defense attorney C. Bradley Patton, who did not return a telephone call. San Diego County prosecutors said they did not know whether the other three defendants had hired attorneys.
Santos' father, Fred Santos, told the San Diego Union-Tribune he was glad arrests had been made.
"I'm glad they arrested the people involved in my son's murder," he said. "Who these people are, who their parents are, doesn't make the pain less or more. It changes nothing. Nothing can bring my son back."
Esteban Nunez and at least one of the other suspects are college students in the Sacramento area, police said. Nunez listed himself as a business student at California State University, Los Angeles on his Facebook and MySpace pages. He posted photos of himself on Facebook with friends, including Ryan Jett, whom he labeled "Jett," and Rafael Garcia, whom he called "Rafa."
Most of the images were of Nunez posing at parties with friends. In one photograph, Nunez wore a black bandanna over his mouth with a friend doing the same while a girl held up a bottle of liquor.
On his message wall, one friend wrote "hang in there bro."
Collins, the San Diego police captain, said there may be a "gang nexus" but declined to elaborate on any possible gang connection or other circumstances of the stabbing. Collins also would not comment on the role each of the suspects is believed to have played in the attack.
In the arrest warrant, investigators said the four defendants belonged to a "close-knit group of friends who call themselves 'THC' aka The Hazard Crew."
Thomas said Esteban Nunez told his friends not to worry, according to the arrest warrant: "Nunez said whatever happens, he would take the rap for it" and that "hopefully his dad would take care of it and could get them off on self defense."
Fabian Nunez, 41, was elected to the Assembly in 2002 and became speaker in 2004. Earlier this year, he and other Democrats pushed a ballot measure that would have revised the state's term limits law and let some incumbents run again. Because that measure failed, Nunez was unable to run for another term last month.
Fellow Democrat Karen Bass was sworn in as the new speaker in May.
During his time as speaker, Nunez cultivated a close relationship with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that resulted in landmark changes in laws related to global warming and labor.
The four suspects were scheduled to be taken from Sacramento to San Diego on Wednesday. Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Fabian Nunez, said the former speaker would travel to San Diego to be with his son but would have nothing to say Tuesday night.
"He's home with his family and has no comment," Maviglio said.
San Diego State University Statement
San Diego State University President Stephen L. Weber released a statement Wednesday regarding the arrest of four suspects in the October stabbing incident on the SDSU campus:
"The San Diego State University community is appreciative of the efforts by the San Diego Police Department to take into custody those suspected of committing such a senseless act. We will continue to follow the criminal prosecution with interest and -- while nothing can restore a young life -- our hope is that justice will be served."