Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A 23-year-old man was convicted Wednesday of second-degree murder in the shooting death of his adoptive father in the victim’s Irvine condominium.

Steven Joseph Bruno faces up to 40 years to life in prison, with sentencing scheduled for Dec. 18.

Jurors deliberated about six hours before finding the defendant guilty of the Aug. 30, 2012, shooting death of 60-year-old Ernest Bruno.

“It’s a tragedy all the way around for everybody involved,” defense attorney Leonard Matsuk said after the verdict was announced. “The family is forever fractured. I’m just grateful the jury did not find him guilty of (first- degree murder).”

Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Herrera had sought a first- degree murder conviction, arguing the defendant spent time loading the gun with bullets, showing premeditation. She also cast doubt on the defendant’s claim that he was holding the gun up to his own head when his father startled him and the firearm went off.

Bruno shot his dad in the chest and head so he could take the victim’s car and money to drive to Ohio to finally meet his “Internet girlfriend,” who had pressured him to visit, Herrera told jurors. He said the defendant had been lacking money and a vehicle to make the trip.

The victim was found a day after the shooting by his other adoptive son, 17-year-old David, who had gone to his dad’s residence so the two could go to San Diego to celebrate the teen’s birthday, Herrera said.

By that time, according to the prosecutor, the defendant was en route to Ohio in his father’s GMC Envoy, getting a ticket for speeding in Utah during the trip, Herrera said. He was apprehended in Logan County, Colorado, after Irvine police obtained an arrest warrant, the prosecutor said.

Bruno told investigators that his father “was in a rage” the day of the shooting, prompting him to try to leave, according to Herrera. He said that when the victim saw him load up his belongings in his father’s vehicle, they got into a scuffle, she said.

Bruno’s lawyer said his client so feared his father’s wrath that he locked himself in the bathroom and put the gun to his head, but couldn’t pull the trigger. When he thought his father may have left the residence, he came out of the bathroom, but was surprised by the victim, leading to the shooting, Matsuk said.

The defendant, who has a learning disability, managed to graduate high school with a great deal of help from his mother and tutors, Matsuk said.

He was awarded a partial scholarship in a PGA golf management program at Mississippi State University following graduation from Corona Del Mar High School, but flunked out of college in his freshman year, Herrera said.

The victim and his estranged wife adopted the defendant and his brother, David, at birth.

Ernest Bruno, who owned a business that sold golf clothing, was living in a condominium — which doubled as his office — at 17 Dartmouth, Herrera said. The defendant lived in a small space in the garage.

The victim’s business was suffering and he had started drinking more and “had developed a temper,”  Matsuk said. On a couple of occasions, the father “slammed” his son against a wall in fits of rage, the attorney said.

City News Service

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