Through the decades, I’ve sat in many courtrooms watching teary-eyed families stand before judges to beg for mercy on behalf of a convicted defendant.
Often, it’s a mom or grandmother telling the judge that the person to be sentenced is a good person, that he’s never gotten a break, or his home life was a mess, or they were poor, or a parent was dead, on drugs or in prison.
In May, the parents of 20-year-old Bruno Cua will likely be in a federal courtroom in Washington pleading to a judge to show their son mercy. Cua, who was 18 when arrested, is the youngest of the 1,000 defendants in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection. He was convicted last week and faces years in prison for shoving a Capitol cop and then making his way to the Senate floor.
Cua’s supporters will probably argue he’s not really a real adult at all and was led astray by a malignant ex-president and a dark Internet filled with shadowy, dangerous and baseless conspiracies.
An earlier fundraising appeal to aid the family hints at Cua’s strategy to avoid prison:
“HELP THIS YOUNG AMERICAN REGAIN HIS FREEDOM & FUTURE! The Kid: Treehouses, Trucks, and Flags.”
But one thing the Cuas can not argue is that he grew up in a broken home or destitute environment.
Cua is the son of Joseph and Alise Cua. Joseph is a former hotel exec and Alise is a veterinarian who stayed home to raise their three children in the rustic north metro suburb of Milton.
The family lives on a three-acre lot in a home estimated to be worth $1.3 million. Bruno tooled around in a large pickup truck with Trump or U.S. flags waving behind. He built elaborate treehouses. He buzzed about his neighborhood on an ATV and built a social media presence as a flag-waving, God-loving, gun-toting all-American kid.
He was afforded every opportunity in life to excel but now will probably end up in the slammer.
Often, a young person will get in trouble and people wonder, “How in the world did this happen?”
Bruno Cua supporters will likely bombard the judge with appeals that Bruno is a fine person, has matured and there’s no need for incarceration. He’s never been arrested, they’ll point out. And he has a family who will make sure he makes no more missteps.
Of course, that family was with him before January 6.
Former Cua attorney J. Tom Morgan said the family “really drank the Kool-Aid” when it came to Trump’s lies, adding, “And poor Bruno had no socialization skills. He was homeschooled.”
The father has expressed remorse at buying into the Trumpian lies. So has Bruno. Of course, almost everyone does so when a reckoning looms.
Prosecutors will present a counter narrative: That Bruno had advocated violence, disruption and conspiracies online for months, that he went to D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021 (with his parents, although they did not take part in the riot), and that he carried a police-style baton inside the Capitol and soon bragged about it online.
What sticks out to me about Bruno is a deep sense of entitlement coupled with a dearth of responsibility.
In fact, it was his habit of annoying neighbors, and perhaps Milton police, that put him on the FBI’s radar.
When Cua was arrested in February 2021, the FBI noted that a police officer tipped off the agency after seeing photos of him in the Capitol. The officer “has had direct interactions with Cua, including in-person, through (their) official duties as an (officer) in the jurisdiction where Cua lives.”
The cop then did some detective work and noticed Bruno carried a jacket on the Senate floor like the one he wore in a social media post.
A month before the January 6 riot, Milton cops got a complaint about Cua racing through a school parking lot with a large Trump flag waving behind his truck while blasting an air horn. Two months earlier, police gave him a warning about that horn.
No biggie; kids will be kids.
But Bruno also had police called to his home numerous times for driving the neighborhood’s gravel road in an ATV.
Cua’s dad told a judge in a 2021 bond hearing that the complaints were “nothing more than neighbors that might be a bit spiteful.”
In that hearing, a prosecutor asked the elder Cua: “How many interactions has your son had with the police to your knowledge?”
A: “I don’t know.”
Q: “More than 10?”
A: “Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe less.”
Then, on Jan. 3, 2021, Cua got caught trespassing in a nearby subdivision and swearing at a homeowner, according to a police report.
Police yet again arrived at Cua’s home, and Joseph Cua met them at the front gate. Soon, Bruno’s mom was recording the interaction with her cellphone.
“What are you doing here harassing my son while kids are out there smoking marijuana?” she said, according to the police report.
Bruno and his dad argued back. Bruno denied jumping the subdivision gate. The officer showed him surveillance footage indicating otherwise.
Bruno “changed his demeanor after seeing the video,” the officer wrote.
Did he get grounded? Yelled at by his parents? Disciplined in any way? I don’t know. I could not reach the family or any lawyer still active on the case.
Two days later, the Cuas were driving to D.C. to watch Trump.
About the Author
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com