By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
According to Murray’s testimony, Murray and Garcia watched, uneasily, from the riverbank above. At no time in the testimony or evidence that has emerged thus far do these young men discuss regret about taking a life.
Later, Núñez swore to Murray that he’d killed nobody. But the code of silence between them was already cracking. The judge’s son, Garcia, told Murray he wasn’t going to take the blame for a death, or for the knifings of the others, when it was Núñez and Jett who had escalated the fight. Garcia told Murray he “didn’t feel he should be held responsible for something he didn’t do.”
Nobody knows for sure when these boys from private schools and pretty suburban streets warned their parents of the doom that was about to overtake their families. But on October 6, San Diego detectives searched their homes, and on October 7, Murray was interrogated by detectives at the Elk Grove Police Station near Sacramento. The 20-year-old Sacramento City College student, asked by police if Jett and Núñez had admitted to stabbing someone, replied: “Yes, at the house and on the ride home” from San Diego. According to Murray, Núñez specifically admitted, “I got one in the shoulder.”
Three days later, San Diego police served Thomas with a search warrant at the Elk Grove Police Station, making him believe he was facing arrest. Essentially tricked into talking, he nervously joked with officers that he had “ugly feet, so be prepared,” and chatted on about his childhood, school, dog — even how the cake at his dad’s military-retirement party “tasted nasty.”
According to court documents, when detectives asked him who would go down for the homicide, Thomas responded: “I know it’s huge and I know somebody has to — well, I thought they were my friends.” When asked how he’d react if any of the others tried to hang Thomas out to dry for the killing, he replied, “I wouldn’t be surprised. Knowing who the parents are, why would they want to go down for this?”
A search warrant released publicly paraphrases Thomas as saying that Núñez had arranged a meeting at Jett’s house, and Núñez had insisted, “Whatever happens, he would take the rap for it. [And] Jett said no matter what happens, if they get picked up, they have to stick together on this.”
But young Núñez also saw a way out, the search warrant suggests, telling Thomas, “Hopefully his dad would take care of it and could get them off on self-defense.”
A few weeks after Santos’ stabbing, investigators announced that the three Sacramento friends, Núñez, Jett and Garcia, had comprised a “close-knit group of friends who called themselves THC, or The Hazard Crew.” They styled themselves as suburban gang members, flashed hand signs and brandished tattoos of the crew — the international symbol for biohazards. Núñez’ MySpace page, long since taken down, showed staged photos of him poking a knife toward a tiny mouse, and pretending to stab a cat squirming in the grip of a long-haired brunette. Not surprisingly, the Sacramento Police Department has no knowledge of any gang called The Hazard Crew, possibly a fantasy played out by upper-middle-class teenage boys, now adults, bored with their lives.
On December 3, they and Thomas were charged with one count of murder, three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and a misdemeanor count of vandalism. San Diego Superior Court Judge David Szumowski set bail at $2 million, but denied bail to Jett, the one kid with a record, who was on probation for his weapons-possession conviction. San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Jill DiCarlo dropped the gang allegations raised by police, possibly because of her office’s failed 2008 attempt to dub the purported Bird Rock Bandits, a bunch of upper-crust La Jolla dropouts, as a gang after one of them punched a surfer so hard that he died.
By then, a Dream Team of sorts had already been assembled to fight prosecutor DiCarlo, a petite blonde who once appeared in the canceled TV show Crime and Punishment. Núñez’ father, Fabian, and mother, Maria, stood before a mob of news cameras at the San Diego Superior Court as C. Bradley Patton, a polished dresser and one of San Diego County’s top criminal defense attorneys, insists that details around the stabbing have been exaggerated and fabricated for dramatic effect so prosecutor DiCarlo can create “a bit of spectacle.”
Patton says Esteban Núñez acted in self-defense. Fabian Núñez went mum after issuing a statement expressing his confidence that his eldest son will be found innocent.
Garcia hired an equally stellar San Diego trial lawyer, Paul Pfingst, the county’s former D.A. — and a man who arguably knows virtually every move in the San Diego prosecutor’s playbook, having been D.A. for seven years before losing a reelection bid to current D.A. Bonnie Dumanis in 2003. Pfingst told reporters that his client is “not a murderer.”