Updated at 2:40 p.m., Jan. 23, 2015
A 23-year-old man was sentenced Friday to 40 years to life in prison for killing his father in the victim’s Irvine condominium.
Steven Joseph Bruno was convicted Oct. 29 of second-degree murder in the Aug. 30, 2012, shooting death of 60-year-old Ernest Bruno, who adopted the defendant at birth. A gun enhancement added 25 years to the defendant’s sentence.
Defense attorney Leonard Matsuk asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to impose a 15-year-to-life sentence, but the judge said the defendant had to face the stiffer punishment for taking a second shot at his father’s head after shooting him in the chest.
The maximum sentence was handed down after Bruno tearfully apologized for his actions and following testimonials from his mother and brother asking the judge for leniency.
But the victim’s sister told Goethals in a letter read by Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Herrera that she considered her nephew a “menace to society” and wanted him to receive the maximum sentence.
“In 38 years he will be a year younger than my brother Ernie was when Steven murdered him,” Joanna Bruno wrote. “Steven should not be allowed to live out his life in freedom when he robbed my brother Ernie of that opportunity.”
She said the killing left her “devastated,” and that her “family is irreparably shattered.”
The victim’s big sister recounted how she would change his diapers and help him with his homework, and how he grew up “quiet and sensitive.”
The murder has her “consumed with anger” that has left her feeling she has lost all strength in her left arm, she said.
The defendant apologized to his family as he blinked back tears and choked up frequently during his statement.
“I understand that I’ve taken someone’s life, not just anyone’s life, but a brother, a husband, a father,” he said, telling the judge that “I lost myself for awhile” in the days leading up the killing.
“I was trying to figure things out,” he said, adding that he was grateful that his brother and mother had forgiven him.
“I don’t know how my family can forgive me. I can’t even forgive myself for what happened that night,” he said.
Goethals said the defendant’s parents had given him multiple opportunities to succeed and that he was “spoiled,” but things took a wrong turn when they doled out some “tough love.”
“They gave you opportunity after opportunity, which you, frankly, wasted,” Goethals said, referring to the defendant flunking out of college.
When his mother kicked him out of her house, she wasn’t “too thrilled your dad took you in,” Goethals told the defendant. “You were clearly struggling and searching, but the evidence suggests to me that you were spoiled, immature, narcissistic, and that presented a great challenge to your parents.”
Bruno might have been convicted of a lesser charge of manslaughter had he put the gun down after the first shot left the victim “defenseless,” Goethals said. But he “issued the coup de grace by blowing his (father’s) brains out at point-blank range,” the judge said. “And there’s no justification for that.”
Despite the tough times he found himself in at the time of the murder, Bruno had “options,” the judge said, adding that he could have joined the military like his brother did, or he could have gotten a job.
Herrera said Bruno shot his father 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.
The victim was found a day after the shooting by his other adoptive son, 17-year-old David, who had gone to his father’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. He was apprehended in Logan County, Colorado, after Irvine police obtained an arrest warrant.
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.
Matsuk 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 at birth.
Ernest Bruno, who owned a business that sold golf clothing, was living in a condominium which doubled as his office, and the defendant lived in a small space in the garage.
—City News Service