Bronx prosecutors, who downgraded the charges against an ex-convict accused of punching a man into a coma — and helped free the suspect — asked a grand jury on Tuesday to up the ante on the raps.
Police officers had arrested suspect Van Phi Bui, 55, for attempted murder in the horrific August 12 attack, only to watch as prosecutors reduced the charges to non-bail offenses, claiming that was all the evidence admitted at the time.
Bui, a convicted sex offender, was then released without bail on charges of assault and molestation in the brawl, sparking an avalanche of criticism that was captured on a front page of the Post – and prompting Gov. Kathy Hochul to finally step in.
The governor ordered Bui to be arrested and held again, saying his arrest in the attack was a violation of his life probation on a sex conviction.
Bui was back in court Tuesday for a scheduled hearing in his assault case. The Bronx Attorney’s Office told the judge that it is asking a grand jury to escalate the misdemeanor charge against the suspect to a felony.
A felony charge would be allowable on bail and could help keep Bui behind bars while also increasing his potential prison sentence if convicted. It was not clear what the felony charge sought was or how many crimes Bui might face.
The grand jury on Tuesday considered the prosecutor’s request, with Bui refusing to testify, a representative for the Bronx district attorney said after the court hearing.
“The investigation has gathered evidence available to the grand jury,” the Post spokesman said in an email in response to a question about what had changed since the indictments were first filed. “It will determine whether the defendant will be charged with a crime.”
A former lawyer for Bui said at a recent parole hearing that it would be unfair for his client to face increased charges, claiming such rapes were the result of “external pressure from the press and the governor.”
The suspect’s current attorney, Casey Trimble of the Legal Aid Society, appeared in court Tuesday carrying a black leather briefcase with “Free Them All” written in silver.
He protested The Post’s court photography, calling articles about his client “grotesque” and “tantamount to character assassination”.
Trimble on Tuesday opposed prosecutors’ request to amend the protective order already in place for 52-year-old victim Jesus Cortes to include the battered man’s family, who live in the same neighborhood.
“[Bui] has no interest in contacting members of [Cortes’s] family,” said Trimble.
Judge Srividya Pappachan left the protection order solely for Cortes.
Cortes’ brother, Juan, burst into tears upon hearing his brother’s name as Pappachan read the order. Two women sitting next to Juan in the court tried to comfort him and hold him up while the hearing continued.
Bui, who is accused of allegedly catching Jesus outside a restaurant on a Fordham Manor street, has told The Post in a prison interview that he passed out during the attack and shouldn’t be behind bars – because the victim survived .
“That doesn’t make sense,” Bui said. “He’s alive. He’s not dead. I thank God he survived. I didn’t mean to hurt him that much. I only hit him once.”
The suspect was allegedly caught on camera beating Cortes in the street, knocking him onto the concrete outside the Fuego Tipico restaurant on East 188th Street. Bui has told The Post that the couple had recently argued at the restaurant. It is unclear what the alleged dispute was about.
Cortes was temporarily put on a ventilator and put into a medically induced coma after the attack, which left him with a fractured skull, a broken cheekbone, and a brain hemorrhage.
In 1995, Phu was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse involving a 17-year-old girl in the Bronx a year earlier. According to state records, he was sentenced to six years of life imprisonment.
He was paroled in 2019 and is now registered as a Level 3 sex offender – the most serious designation, records show.
His next hearing in the assault case is scheduled for September 15. If Bui is charged with the crime, he will be charged that day, prosecutors said.
Juan Cortes, prosecutors and Trimble all declined to comment after the trial.
https://nypost.com/2022/09/06/bronx-da-seeks-to-upgrade-charges-against-sucker-punch-suspect-van-phi-bui/ Bronx prosecutors are trying to step up charges against sucker-punch suspect Van Phi Bui