WASHINGTON (AP) — A high school student who stormed the U.S. Capitol, assaulted a police officer and sat in a Senate floor chair reserved for the vice president was sentenced on Wednesday to one year in prison.
Georgia resident Bruno Joseph Cua was 18 when he attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, making him one of the youngest people charged in the riot.
Before learning his sentence, Cua apologized for his actions and told U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss that he is ashamed of his role in a mob's “attack on democracy.”
“Everything that day was just one terrible decision after another,” said Cua, now 21.
Moss sentenced Cua to a prison term of one year and one day followed by three years of supervised release. The judge convicted Cua of felony charges after a trial earlier this year.
Moss told Cua that he was prepared to give him a longer prison sentence before he heard his statement in court on Wednesday. The judge said he believes Cua is truly remorseful.
“It's a tragic case for the country. It's a tragic case for you and your family,” the judge told him. “There are no winners in any of this.”
More than 1,000 people have been charged with Jan. 6-related crimes. Cua is one of at least six Capitol riot defendants born in 2002, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia.
Cua's attorneys cited his youth as grounds for leniency. His actions on Jan. 6 “reflect his immaturity at the time and the effects that the crowd had on such a young person,” defense attorneys wrote in a court filing.
Around the time of the riot, Cua was finishing online coursework to graduate from high school. Prosecutors said Cua’s age is “only slightly” a mitigating factor in his favor.
“Americans who reach the age of 18 are entrusted with several important responsibilities and duties including voting, joining the military, signing a contract, and serving on a jury. In this way, the law recognizes that an 18-year-old is capable of making mature decisions,” they wrote in a court filing.
Justice Department prosecutor Kaitlin Klamann said at least five Capitol riot defendants were younger than Cua on Jan. 6. Two of the five have resolved their cases and avoided prison terms. Both pleaded guilty to misdemeanor offenses and were sentenced to probation.
Cua planned his attack weeks in advance, brought weapons to the Capitol, tried to terrorize congressional staffers and was repeatedly aggressive toward police, prosecutors said.
They added, “Cua played a unique and prominent role on January 6, opening the Senate Chamber to the rioters, escalating confrontations, and leading other rioters into and through the Capitol."
Prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of four years and nine months for Cua. His lawyers asked the judge to sentence him to time served: the 40 days he spent in jail after his February 2021 arrest.
Cua said he was “scarred to my core” by his jail time. Another inmate assaulted Cua while he was jailed in Oklahoma, according to one of his lawyers.
“I did something stupid to land myself there, but it was traumatizing,” Cua said.
Other young rioters have received prison terms. In March, for example, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton sentenced Aiden Bilyard to three years and four months of incarceration. Bilyard, of Cary, North Carolina, also was 18 when he stormed the Capitol, pepper sprayed a line of police officers and used a bat to break into a Capitol conference room.
Cua and his parents drove from their home in Milton, Georgia, to Washington D.C., arriving a day before then-President Donald Trump spoke at his “Stop the Steal” rally. The Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 disrupted the joint session of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden's electoral victory.
Cua was armed with pepper spray and a metal baton — weapons given to him by his father — when rioters breached police lines on the west side of the Capitol, according to prosecutors. After climbing scaffolding, Cua entered the building through the Upper West Terrace doors and and walked down a hallway toward the Senate.
“As Cua walked down the hallway, he tried to open every single office door he passed by pulling on doorknobs, pounding on the doors with his fist, and kicking the doors,” prosecutors wrote.
They said Cua intended to intimidate staffers who were behind the doors as he yelled, “Hey! Where are the swamp rats hiding?”
Cua went to the third floor, where he shoved a Capitol police officer who was trying to lock doors to the Senate gallery. After the officer retreated, Cua entered the gallery, shouting “This is our house! This is our country!” Jumping onto the Senate floor, he sat in the chair for then-Vice President Mike Pence, leaned back and propped his feet up on a desk.
Then he opened a door, allowing dozens of other rioters onto the Senate floor. Before leaving, Cua rifled through desks belonging to Senators Charles Grassley, John Thune and Dianne Feinstein.
Moss decided the case against Cua without a jury in February, convicting him of obstructing the Jan. 6 congressional proceeding and assaulting a federal officer. The judge handed down the verdict after a “stipulated bench trial,” a proceeding in which Cua didn't contest the facts supporting his convictions. He waived his right to a jury trial.
Prosecutors asked Moss to impose a $23,485 fine, which equals the amount of money raised by an online fundraising campaign called “Bruno Cua: An American’s Future at Stake.” The website said the funds will be used for Cua's “many expenses in his pursuit of his freedom.”