World Events

Judge sets first trial date for Capitol riot

The scheduling of the trial is another indication of the challenges looming for the courts in managing the huge surge of cases — more than 300 — stemming from the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob seeking to stave off Electoral College proceedings certifying President Joe Biden’s win.

One key factor in whether Cua goes to trial sooner or later is the decision that was the main focus of Wednesday’s hearing: whether he remains in jail as the case goes forward or whether he is released to live at his parents’ home in Milton, Ga. If he is sent home, defense attorneys indicated they would agree to a postponement.

Due to the video evidence, plea deals seem likely in many of the cases, but prosecutors are not yet making such offers as the FBI continues to try to figure out the role played by each defendant.

Cua, who is believed to be the youngest person charged in the riot, is accused of assaulting a police officer while armed with a telescoping baton, interfering with police during civil disorder, obstruction of Congress and other offenses. He entered not guilty pleas through his attorney Wednesday.

Stills from surveillance video at the Capitol show Cua holding the baton while confronting a police officer in a hallway near the Senate chamber. Cua eventually made it onto the Senate floor during the disturbance. Moss asked to see the actual video before making a decision on whether to release Cua, who has been in jail since he was arrested on Feb. 5.

Prosecutors say Cua’s case is particularly serious because of the stream of social media posts he sent before and after the riot, encouraging violence and even executions of government officials.

“On JAN 6th congress will open their blinds and see MILLIONS OF ANGRY #PATRIOTS. OPEN CARRY MISSON [sic],” Cua wrote on the right-wing platform Parler. “If they vote for sleepy joe and commie KAMALA, we BREAK DOWN THEIR DOORS AND TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK BY FORCE!”

Cua also promoted action against Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. “WHEN IS IT TIME TO DRAG HIM OUT OF HIS MANSION? IM READY!!! THIS IS OUR #1776,” he wrote.

Moss said that while Cua’s actions at the Capitol may have not been among the most egregious that day, his foreknowledge was incriminating.

“Perhaps most troubling, sort of with uncanny foresight, he knew what was going to happen,” said the judge. “He was posting about going to the Capitol for the purpose of violence before it happened … He predicted things were going to happen that I never in a million years would imagine would happen at our Capitol. They were just shocking and appalling. … Talking about public execution of people who work for Congress. ‘No warning shot.’”

An attorney for Cua, William Zapf, said that was just the kind of pumped-up talk some people get carried away with on the web.

“This is an 18 year-old kid who is out boasting on the internet perhaps, but we don’t see any actual steps,” Zapf said. “This is ultimately the idle chatter of a young man.”

Moss said he’d be more inclined to believe that if Cua hadn’t gone to the Capitol with a weapon, squared off with the police and made his way onto the Senate floor. “It’s hard to say just idle chatter when he actually acted on some of it,” said the judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama.

Assistant U.S. attorney Kimberly Paschall agreed. “There are few other defendants who have stated their intentions so clearly on social media before showing up on Jan. 6,” she said during the hourlong hearing conducted by video. The public was permitted to listen in to the audio by phone.

Prosecutors have also objected to Cua’s release for another reason: He’s asking to be sent to his parents’ home, but they actually drove him to Washington on the day of the riot and stood by as he rushed into the Capitol.

“They did nothing about it and the defendant was not picked up for another month,” Paschall said. Prosecutors have said the parents could face charges since they appeared to cross the police lines at the Capitol. No such charges have been filed.

Moss heard directly from Cua’s mother Alice, who made a tearful-sounding plea to send her son home.

“I should have been more on top of his social media,” said Alice Cua, a professional photographer. “There were definitely some that I was aware of and many I wasn’t aware of and I take full l responsibility for that … I should have been watching every post, but I didn’t — I didn’t.”

Alice Cua also said the family has completely forsworn politics in the wake of the event at the Capitol in January and their son’s detention.

“Since he has been arrested, everything has changed for us. We really just hope for mercy,” she said. “We just want our family together. I don’t even want to even hear the word politics. Bruno feels the same way. We are completely broken.”

Moss expressed concern that, because of the large, ongoing investigation and other factors, if he declines to release Cua, he could spend “a very long period of time” in jail awaiting trial. Paschall said that wasn’t an appropriate factor to consider under the law governing bail applications and that the judge should focus on Cua’s dangerousness.

The judge agreed, but warned the government that if Cua is detained, the defense could insist on immediate access to all the relevant evidence and push for a quick trial.

Defense attorney Jon Jeffress said they would do exactly that.

“If they’re going to ask for him to be locked up, then they need to be in a position to try the case,” Jeffress said of the prosecution. “I don’t want to put the court to any inconvenience or the jury in a dangerous COVID situation before anyone can be vaccinated. …This is what the government’s actions are forcing.”

Under a coronavirus-related order from the chief judge, trials in D.C. federal court are suspended through March 15. That order has been repeatedly extended during the pandemic. Another update is expected in the coming days.

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