Weekender Updater (on Monday): Family Murders and Near-Murders Fill OC Courtrooms

I'm just back from a short vacation aimed at compounding cirrhosis of my liver, which means I was unable to get Weekender Updater up before the weekend. So in this special Monday (and family mayhem!) edition we have prison sentences for a son who murdered his dad so he could drive the old man's car to his girlfriend out of state, and a mom who lost her bid for an insanity plea in the attempted stabbing murders of her young daughters. Also, a teen admitted to the hammer attack of his father, a reserve Orange County sheriff's sergeant, and a Santa Ana mom was convicted of first-degree murder for
drowning her 2-month-old daughter in a bathtub, but the sanity phase starts Tuesday.


Story: Steven Joseph Bruno Guilty of Slaying Father

Update: Steven Joseph Bruno, who is now 23, was just sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison for the Aug. 30, 2012, murder of his 60-year-old father, Ernest Bruno, in their Irvine home. The son fatally shot the dad so he could take the old man's car and money to visit a girlfriend in Colorado, where he was later arrested after a traffic stop. Besides the prison time, Steven Bruno received an earful during sentencing from his aunt as the prosecutor read a victim impact statement from Joanna Bruno who said, in part, “Today, I am haunted by images of Ernie's murder–knowing that the last thing Ernie saw was his son Steven walking toward him, pointing a gun at his head and pulling the trigger. … I believe Steven is a menace to society and should never be set free. In 38 years, he will be a year younger than my brother Ernie was when Steven murdered him. Steven should not be allowed to live out his life in freedom when he robbed my brother Ernie of that opportunity.” Steven Bruno choked up and blinked back tears while reading his own statement, saying, “I understand that I've taken someone's life, not just anyone's life, but a brother, a husband, a father. I lost myself for awhile. … I was trying to figure things out. Acknowledging that his mother and brother forgave him, he added, “I don't know how my family can forgive me. I can't even forgive myself for what happened that night.” Judge Thomas Goethals told him: “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.'' The judge added Bruno may have been convicted of a lesser charge of manslaughter had he put the gun down after the first shot left his father “defenseless,” but the gunman then “issued the coup de grace by blowing his (father's) brains out at point-blank range. And there's no justification for that.”

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Story: John Edward Kudla, 17, Charged as Adult in Hammer Attack on His Father, Reserve Sheriff's Sgt. Jon Kudla
Update: John Edward Kudla, who is now 19, admitted in court recently that he attacked his father with a hammer, paralyzing the reserve Orange County sheriff's sergeant. Under a deal with Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett, Kudla pleaded guilty to attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon or force likely to produce great bodily injury, and he admitted to a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily harm. Prickett dismissed a charge of stealing a vehicle and sentencing enhancements for attempted premeditated murder and inflicting great bodily harm by coma or paralysis. The judge could send the teen to state prison for 10 years at sentencing set for Feb. 27.


Story: Hold Your Mother of the Year Ballots: Here's the Woman Who Allegedly Stabbed Her Little Girls
Update: Thuy Thi Le first lost her bid for an insanity defense and thus a state mental hospital stay instead of this sentence last week for violent knife attacks on her daughters who were then 3 and 5: 11 years to life in state prison. The Garden Grove 43-year-old had previously been convicted of attempted murder and child abuse, but she tried to argue she was insane at the time of the Sept. 16, 2009, attacks. The defense attorney claimed Le had grown paranoid, thinking “her kids had been switched out,” the FBI was “after her,'' “gangsters” were chasing her and that her rental home in Garden Grove had a “demon curse” on it. And she refused meds she'd been prescribed because she was convinced they were poisoned, the lawyer added. Four psychological experts testified for the defense during trial, and three of them chipped in during the insanity phase. But Deputy District Attorney John Christl informed jurors Le told investigators after her arrest that her live-in boyfriend wanted to leave her and that she believed he didn't love their children. That more than anything got to her state of mind for “an angry act, a selfish act,” Christi argued. Jurors agreed this past Halloween that Le was sane during the attacks. Le at sentencing read a four-page statement apologizing for trying to kill her daughters and thanking Westminster Police Sgt. Cameron Knauerhaze for saving the life of the 5-year-old, who had been stabbed in the heart and later required surgery. The mother also stabbed the younger girl in the chest but missed any vital organs. Le tried to stab herself, suffering a superficial wound.

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Story: Kimberly Gutierrez, 2012 OC Homicide No. 22: 2-Month-Old Drowned

A bipolar mother was convicted of first-degree murder today for drowning her 2-month-old daughter in a bathtub in Santa Ana. But Lucero Carrera has
pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, so her trial will enter a second phase Tuesday to determine whether she was legally insane at the time of the June 29, 2012, killing of Kimberly Gutierrez. The jury's decision will determine whether Carrera will spend life in state prison or an indefinite stay in a state mental hospital. The defense and prosecution agree Carrera swallowed a bottle of 30 Seroquel pills to try to kill herself after drowning her daughter. Carrera told police she drowned her baby “so she wouldn't suffer what I suffered,” the prosecutor said in his opening statement.

Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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