Judge resentences gang member to 5 life terms

When an Orange County judge in 2003 sentenced gang member Antonio Nunez to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime, the defendant became one of the youngest in California history to get the penalty.

Nunez was 14 when he sprayed an AK-47 assault rifle at police trying to thwart a 2001 kidnapping plot. In addition to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Nunez also was sentenced to four consecutive life terms on separate counts of attempting to murder four police officers.

But the kidnapping sentence was “freakishly rare,” an “arbitrary and capricious” violation of the 8th Amendment, California’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in April, noting that the law forbade even convicted murderers under age 16 from getting life without parole.

The ruling, which set legal precedent by declaring it unconstitutional to impose that particular penalty for kidnapping, sent Nunez’s case back to Orange County Superior Court, where Judge William Froeberg on Friday resentenced Nunez to five life terms with the possibility of parole -- after he serves 186 years.

Prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh called it a just sentence. “This defendant was not a child. He was a hard-core gang member that had absolutely no regard for the value of human life,” he said. “The fact that we don’t have multiple dead bodies in this case is sheer luck.”


Nunez was a member of the 18th Street gang in April 2001 when he and fellow gang member Juan Diego Perez, then 27, kidnapped a Santa Ana man at gunpoint, demanding $100,000 and a kilogram of cocaine from the victim’s brother as ransom.

The kidnappers arrived for the exchange at a Long Beach parking lot, but fled in an Oldsmobile when a lookout spotted police. Perez led police on a chase across freeways and through residential neighborhoods, and Nunez used an assault rifle to shoot repeatedly at a pursuing undercover police van and a marked Santa Ana police squad car.

No officers were hit, though one bullet missed an officer’s head by less than four inches. Police finally caught the pair after the Oldsmobile crashed in a cul-de-sac.

Nunez’s original consecutive life sentences on the attempted murder counts -- he would have to serve at least 35 years on each before being eligible for parole -- made the Court of Appeals ruling on the kidnapping count irrelevant to his actual time behind bars.

The nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, based in Alabama, which litigated Nunez’s appeal, could not be reached for comment Friday.