By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
They discussed their mutual excitement about the upcoming November presidential elections and how different the world would be if Barack Obama won. "[Santos] was really excited that Obama had gone so far," Decaro remembers.
At about 10:30 p.m., roommates Santos and Scheerer stopped by Sabahi's apartment to coax him into joining them for a night of party-hopping. Sabahi didn't go. He had two tests on Monday. "That was the last time I talked to him," Sabahi says.
Santos and Scheerer eventually met up with roommates Keith Robertson, Jason Fiori and Evan Henderson, and soon this group of five would collide with four attractive young men from Sacramento, three of whom were carrying concealed knives.
Rafael Garcia and his friend John Murray had decided to go to San Diego to visit Garcia's brother Felipe, an engineering student, and Murray's friend Kristin Margullis. Núñez and Jett joined them for the trip, and Núñez called his old Cal State L.A. dorm buddy Leshanor Thomas, who happily joined the bunch. Thomas had dropped out of college and was going to move back in with his dad so he could work to save enough to attend Santa Monica College.
"My roommates, both girlfriends who attend UCLA, absolutely love him," wrote Thomas' friend Salima Koroma to a judge in the successful effort to have Thomas' $2 million bail reduced. "He helped all of us move into our new apartment, and was there for all of us when we needed rides to the grocery store or rides home from school."
Thomas joined the other young men on the trip to San Diego as a last-minute thing. "He was hanging out with us girls too much. So when Esteban called him randomly one night to go to a party, he jumped at the chance to hang with someone he thought was an old friend."
Most of the group arrived at Garcia's brother's house in San Diego around 2 p.m., smoked pot, drank a lot of beer and rum, and 20 minutes before midnight headed out. Murray stayed behind while the others went to a Greek fraternity party — or tried to. Instead they were asked if they were "Greek" members — then told to leave.
Around midnight, Briana Perez and her roommate got a call from her cousin, Garcia. Garcia, Jett, Núñez and Thomas were down the street at a McDonald's, so she invited them to her dorm on Montezuma Road, just three blocks from what would become a murder scene. Perez later told detectives that the men were angry about being denied entry to the frat party and threatened to burn the house of the "faggot frat guys."
Perez tried to call Garcia on his cell later that night because, she told police, she was worried he was "looking for drama." She didn't reach him. Soon after, at 2:16 a.m., police got a 911 call about a fight near Peterson Gym. Expecting another drunken college-boy fistfight, they instead found carnage: A handsome young man lay in a pool of blood as another young man pressed desperately on his chest. Two others had knife wounds, and another had taken a bad punch to the eye — but no knives were found at the scene.
Scheerer, interviewed by cops in an ER near dawn as he awaited plastic surgery on his right eye, said he and Santos had just split up from friends Robertson, Fiori and Henderson near Cox Arena. But as they walked past Peterson Gym, Scheerer and Santos were repeatedly harassed by four young guys they didn't know.
When one of the strangers threw a punch, Scheerer and Santos started to run, but suddenly their friend Robertson appeared from down the street, and wildly charged into the group of four strangers. He later told the cops he swung a "sloppy punch" at Leshanor Thomas, but instead Thomas got him with "a good one."
Before he could understand what was happening, Scheerer says, Santos had collapsed — and Fiori was down on the ground applying pressure to Luis' chest.
In a mark of how reliant college students are upon cell phones, Robertson, who had shoulder surgery for his knife wound, told police that just before the killing, he got a frantic call from Santos, saying that he and Scheerer were about to be jumped by four or five guys, and needed help, quick. When Robertson, Fiori and Henderson ran over in response, the brawl broke out.
Fiori told detectives Santos warned them: "They have knives!" He also remembered Santos saying, "Dude, we got ourselves into something ... we are by ourselves. They have numbers — we need help!"
Henderson, who required emergency surgery to stop bleeding from knife slashes to his stomach and back, recalled asking one assailant in astonishment, "Why do you have a knife? If you're going to fight, let's square up like a man."
Only Scheerer could identify anyone. He told police he was "80 percent sure" Ryan Jett was one of the attackers. Not only were the attackers all drunk, but all the victims admitted to being intoxicated; a pathology report found Santos' blood alcohol level at .22, far above the .08 limit used to determine drunk driving.