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 boyishly attractive, blue-eyed Jett chewed his nails and listened intently, sometimes grinning at his public defender, who looks something like Cheers’ Shelley Long. Skinny and smallish Garcia, looking ill-at-ease in an oversized suit with dragging pant legs, kept his pale face down, peering up occasionally at Bashant or his lawyer, the former D.A. The 6-foot-1 Thomas, known for his bubbly personality, stared at the judge, sometimes peeking at his father, a few rows behind him.
Núñez, described by Thomas to police as the “problem-solver” of the group, seemed to perk up when he spoke to his protective father. The elder Núñez looked nervous and wore mismatched suits each day of the hearing, and his youthful-looking wife, who wore mostly black and smoked with her grown children outside the courthouse or across the street near the Sofia Hotel — where the Núñez family stayed. Once outside, Fabian Núñez was constantly on his cell phone, while his own extended family took up almost three rows inside the small courtroom.
Garcia, in some ways, seemed the most vulnerable, staying close to his frail-appearing mother, Olga, and his father, Daniel Sr., the administrative-law judge. Out in the hall, Esteban Núñez patted Garcia on the back before Núñez moved off with his parents. Thomas was represented by his parents, who occasionally chatted in the hall with other defendants’ family members and their attorneys.
Standing several yards away, in the hallway where guards lead shackled men and women as they waddle in chains to their courtrooms, Kathy and Fred Santos stood with their friends, and with prosecutor DiCarlo — a smaller contingent, there to represent the dead young man.
But inside the courtroom, all eyes were on shorthaired, goatee-sporting John Murray, who drove Núñez, Jett and Garcia to San Diego before the slaying, and who was granted immunity to testify. Murray told a captivated room that he stayed in for the night, and was awakened by his panicked friends, who spilled out bits and pieces of a horrendous story. Murray recalled that Jett washed a bloody shirt in the sink, and Núñez later admitted that they’d both been in a knife fight — and that both had stabbed people in self-defense.
Yet rather than alert police or paramedics, the boys fled San Diego, with Thomas driving. Murray described in detail how, once in Sacramento, they burned a bloody shirt or shorts and threw one or more knives into the Sacramento River. Murray says he ended the cover-up and cooperated with police, because he “wanted to do everything right by my moral, ethics and family.”
A parade of San Diego Police Department detectives detailed their two-month investigation, and a quirky deputy medical examiner straight out of Central Casting described his findings in eerie detail. The man, who resembled a young John Waters, often checked his notes, oddly remarking, “I will refresh me! Refreshing me!” as he described his autopsy findings for the slain Santos.
The details were too devastating for some. The Santos family walked out, unable to bear the gruesome details, as Núñez’ mother, who sat stiffly next to her husband, wiped tears from her eyes. At another point, Olga Garcia, Rafael Garcia’s mother, rushed out crying, barely able to open the heavy courtroom door with her thin frame, the same frame her son has inherited.
Defense lawyers are suggesting that Santos’ group may have carried weapons that night, and that their own clients acted in self-defense after hearing Santos drunkenly brag about having a “piece.” “That whole gun scenario is ridiculous,” Santos’ friend Decaro tells L.A. Weekly. The defense team “is pretty low down to me. He never carried weapons. He barely had the money. ... I don’t think you can buy a gun with a Von’s gift card.”
Now, Santos’ friends are left to question why this happened at all. Others wonder how it will affect the career of Fabian Núñez, who grew up in San Diego — the city where his son’s fate now lies — and has at times floated the idea of becoming mayor of that city.
Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University, an expert on Sacramento’s political elite, reflects, “I don’t know of a single person who heard the news and who [didn’t think] it is a tragedy. No one was saying, ‘Ah-hah! That’s the end of [Núñez’] political career.’ ... We aren’t very biblical, in the sense that the sins of the father won’t be bestowed or carried by the sons. We don’t hold public officials culpable for the sins of their children.”
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