Cua was 18 at the time of the riot and is the youngest of the nearly 1,000 people across the nation to be charged in the massive federal investigation. Investigators have charged 23 people with Georgia ties with crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot. Of those, 16 have pleaded guilty. Cua was the first of Georgia’s defendants to take their case to trial, after spurning a plea agreement from federal prosecutors.
In the weeks following the November 2020 presidential election, the Trump-supporting Cua took to social media urging people to bring firearms to Washington on Jan. 6 to “take our country back by force.”
After the riot, Cua was even more aggressive in his public statements.
“Everyone who works in congress is a traitor to the people and deserves a public execution,” Cua wrote in a Jan. 8, 2021, post on the right-wing social media site Parler.
While most accused Capitol rioters have been charged with a variety of misdemeanors, including trespassing and illegally protesting in a restricted area, Cua’s charges were more serious because of where he went and how he got there.
Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office
Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office
During the riot, Cua was captured on video by journalists and security cameras deep inside the Capitol. Security footage showed the suburban teenager in a scrum of rioters pushing a U.S. Capitol police officer to force their way into the Senate chamber. The video shows Cua, with what appeared to be a metal baton in his hand, twice shove the officer before making his way into the Senate where he became one of a handful of rioters to make it to the floor of the chamber.
Video taken by a reporter for The New Yorker showed Cua on the floor of the Senate arguing with another rioter, later identified as retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Brock, about whether they could sit in the chairs.
“They can steal an election, but we can’t sit in their chairs?” Cua asked.
“It’s a PR war, OK?” Brock yelled back. “We can’t lose the IO (information operation) war.”
Brock, a resident of Texas, took his case to trial in November and was found guilty of six charges, including one felony. He is set be sentenced in March and also faces up to 20 years in prison.
Rather than face a jury, Cua opted for what was called a “stipulated bench trial” in which both sides agreed to a series of facts that formed the basis of the charges and asked the judge to make a ruling based on whether those facts fit the alleged crime. Jonathan Lewis of George Washington University Program on Extremism, said bench trials have become a more popular route for Jan. 6 defendants who fear they cannot get a fair shake in front of a Washington jury.
“We have seen several instances of individuals saying they can’t get a fair trial in DC,” Lewis said. “By and large, every judge has rejected those arguments.”
As in the case of Cua, Lewis said those defendants who have taken their case to a bench trial have fared no better than those who stood before a jury. In some ways, it’s a harder road since all of the Washington, D.C., circuit judges have heard dozens of Jan. 6 cases by now, he said.
“This set of judges have a pretty decent understanding of the particularities of these cases,” he said.
The bench trial came after a somewhat twisted journey in which Cua rejected an offer of a plea deal and at one point tried to dismiss his attorney and represent himself, explaining to the judge “I have repented of my sins.”
Cua is set to be sentenced May 12 in Washington, D.C. His actual sentence will likely be shorter than 20 years based on a number of factors, including the fact Cua has no criminal history.