A Bronx suspect busted for a one-punch knockout that left a stranger fighting for life was released without bail Thursday to the outrage of the still-hospitalized victim’s family.
Bui Van Phu appeared in Bronx Criminal Court with his hands cuffed behind his back wearing a gray shirt and black pants. He was freed on a misdemeanor assault charge for last Friday’s savage attack on the helpless Jesus Cortes outside a local restaurant.
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The NYPD had initially charged Van Phu with attempted murder, but the Bronx district attorney went with only an assault and harassment charge.
“It’s just something crazy, because he had previous criminal history,” Anel Cortes, 29, a niece of the victim, said of Van Phu’s release. “I’m in shock right now because I didn’t expect that.”
The 55-year-old defendant, who was booted from his home in a nearby men’s shelter after his arrest, is already on lifetime parole for a 1995 Bronx sexual assault case that landed him behind bars for six years.
Under the state’s bail reform laws, misdemeanor assault is typically not eligible for bail unless another factor in the case allows it, such as another pending, active case where a suspect is accused of causing harm to someone.
It’s not clear if Van Phu could have been locked up as a parole violator after his release without bail.
Judge Giyang An noted Van Phu is charged with a misdemeanor “for now” in the new case. The judge ordered Van Phu placed under supervised release pending a Sept. 6 court date. The judge described his supervised release as more strict than the conditions of his parole.
The Bronx DA’s office didn’t address why it charged misdemeanor assault and not attempted murder — the charge initially filed by cops.
Despite the family’s outrage, suspects in one-punch cases often only face misdemeanor assault charges initially.
Recently, an Illinois man was charged with the low-level assault offense in December after police say he threw a punch that killed a father of two outside a Brooklyn restaurant. And in March, an off-duty firefighter was charged with misdemeanor assault after police say he threw a single, killer punch at a man during a bar brawl.
“Generally, when somebody punches somebody else, the intent is not to kill them,” said veteran defense lawyer Mario Gallucci. “You usually can only charge a misdemeanor assault, unless you can prove there was intent to commit a homicide.”
Prosecutors are required to weigh the circumstances of the incident before seeking further charges, including the intent of the attacker, whether the victim was drunk or aggressive before the punch, or the person had a medical condition, Gallucci said.
Cortes, 52, remains unconscious and listed in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center nearly a week after he was allegedly attacked from behind by Van Phu, who police said put on a pair of work gloves before delivering a devastating right-hand punch to the victim’s head.
Cortes had just exited Fuego Tipico, a restaurant on E. 188th St. near the Grand Concourse, and was talking with a group of men and women when he was slugged around 10:45 p.m. Friday, cops said.
The two men had no interaction before the punch, and investigators have found no evidence the pair even knew each other, police said.
The family has been told there is a long recovery ahead for the victim given the severity of his injuries.
“He’s in the hospital,” the victim’s niece Anel said Thursday. “He’s in a bed. We don’t know when is he gonna be, if he’s gonna be back OK, if he’s gonna wake up. … They say days, weeks, months. We don’t know.”
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