By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The murder cast an icy pall over the San Diego campus, where homicides are rare: The last one occurred in 1997, when engineering grad student Frederick Davidson shot three of his professors, allegedly for giving him a bad grade on his thesis. Unlike most youth killings on California’s streets, in which witnesses vanish down urban rat holes, startling evidence immediately began dropping into the laps of San Diego detectives.
Police say Santos’ attackers fled, got rid of the murder weapon and destroyed bloody clothing. As with so many unsolved California slayings, it might have ended there, another baffling mystery. But because Santos was so widely known by so many students on campus, all grabbing their cell phones to share information about that night, suspicion quickly fell upon Núñez and his three pals. “It was a very good thing that Lu knew a lot of people and he was so well-liked,” says his friend Dillard.
San Diego police must have been stunned when pretty student Kristin Margullis walked up to them just a few hours after the killing, as detectives surveyed the crime scene, near the university’s Cox Arena. Today, the place is marked with a silhouette outlining Santos’ body, painted in tribute by his friends. Margullis told the detectives she had reason to believe that a group of young men she had met the night before had committed the stabbing and then fled town.
In a bizarre triangulation, Margullis became a central figure after her good friend John Murray texted her to say his friends had just been in a knife fight — and were leaving San Diego fast. Within hours of that text message, a girlfriend of Margullis’, who was friends with Santos, told Margullis that Santos had been stabbed to death. Margullis realized that her two unconnected friends were talking about the same incident but from different angles.
Despite having the alleged perp names virtually dropped in their laps, police quietly investigated for two months, meticulously building a case before making a single arrest. And no wonder. When the San Diego cops finally made the arrests in early December, the names of the suspects made headlines across California, and key players in the state’s Democratic political machine sprang to action. “This case wouldn’t be newsworthy but for the fact it is Núñez’ son,” says attorney Eric Hintz, a friend of Jett’s family, who represented Jett on his gun-possession charge last year.
But the outpouring of support from California elected officials doesn’t sit well with Santos’ father. Unaccustomed to the insider world of California’s political elite, and their penchant for circling the wagons to protect one another, he was shaken to see big-name politicos all but kiss off the death of his son.
“I think it is inappropriate [behavior] for public officials like the mayor of Los Angeles,” Fred Santos says. “Someone that prominent should refrain from making public comment. Maybe that is bad judgment on [Villaraigosa’s] part. He should have said ‘no comment’ till the facts come out.”
The Santos family held a funeral on October 11, and some 700 of Santos’ friends and family attended — more than attend funerals for many of California’s well-known dignitaries. His father played a CD of Santos’ favorite song, “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. “Different friends would read parts of prayers or scriptures, and then some of them were pallbearers and carried the coffin into the church,” Fred remembers. A lot of people, old and young, wore high-top sneakers and baseball hats — Santos’ trademark look.
“It didn’t make a difference who” killed his son, Fred says. “If they arrested Arnold Schwarzenegger, it didn’t matter. ... There is no other damage that can be done to us.” But for the accused, he says, “It is still the big unknown.”
Luis Santos grew up 31 miles east of San Francisco, with his father, Fred, and mother, Kathy, a respected college administrator. Their very slight son tried lifting weights but was no Arnold. Fred, now able to gently joke about his slain son, says, “Genetically, it was a lost cause. He had good tone even though he didn’t look like anyone who picked up a barbell.”
What the teenage Santos didn’t have in bulk, he made up for with his ferociously quick wit. He’d grab the phone — and pretend the president was on the line. “He liked to imitate Rowan Atkinson [Mr. Bean]. He would walk behind the counter and get shorter and shorter. It looked like he was walking down the stairs,” he adds.
The lovable nerd shared a secret language with his best friend, Navid Sabahi, something like pig Latin, so they could talk about girls, and the two spent hours riding their BMX bikes. Santos’ “fame” was his one-liners, and Sabahi remembers how he and Santos once boiled 30 pots of water in a misguided effort to heat up a hot tub more cheaply. “Before we got a pot boiling, the hot tub would cool down.”
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