(NewsNation) — The man who allegedly sucker-punched an unsuspecting stranger in New York City so hard that it put him in a coma was released without bail Thursday.
Bui Van Phu, 55, was arrested after allegedly being seen on surveillance footage brutally punching 52-year-old Jesus Cortes from behind in what appeared to be a random attack.
The NYPD initially charged Phu with attempted murder, but the charges were reduced by the Bronx district attorney. Phu was then freed from custody without bail on misdemeanor assault and harassment charges.
Under New York’s bail laws implemented in 2019, a misdemeanor assault charge is typically not eligible for bail unless other factors in the case allow for it.
“I don’t anticipate this case to remain in a misdemeanor case,” said Criminal Defense attorney Arie Shamuilian on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.” “I think that the district attorney’s office is gonna go ahead and build up the case, once they receive medical records.”
Phu was placed under supervised release pending a Sept. 6 court date.
Cortes appeared to be minding his own business on the sidewalk before the incident. The force of the punch left him with a broken skull, a broken cheekbone and a brain bleed, according to police. He is now in a medically induced coma and had to undergo brain surgery.
“It’s just something crazy, because he had previous criminal history,” Anel Cortes, 29, a niece of the victim, told local news outlets. “I’m in shock right now because I didn’t expect that.”
Data from the New York City Criminal Justice Agency shows only 1.7% of previous offenders were rearrested and charged with a felony in June 2022. 95% had no new offenses.
But Phu has a history of crime.
At the time of the incident, state records show Phu was on parole for a 1995 sexual assault case for which he served six years in prison and registered as a sex offender.
According to the criminal complaint, Phu called his parole officer and told him about the incident, saying, “I hit someone and he’s in the hospital. I don’t know if he’s dead.”
The goal of bail reform is to reduce the number of people waiting for trial because they can’t pay their bail. The law has its critics.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, both Democrats, have expressed differing views on bail reform.
Adams has called for the state Legislature to tighten New York’s bail laws for repeat offenders.
“Our criminal justice system is insane,” Adams said. “It is dangerous is harmful, and it’s destroying the fabric of our city.”
Hochul pushed back, saying, “It’s hard to put a correlation between crime and the bail law when crime is up all over the country.”
Shamuilian said he has had a lot of innocent clients who not for bail reform would be stuck in custody throughout the duration of their case.
“There’s definitely upsides to it,” he said. “But in this case, it’s quite concerning given the violentness of this action that he was released without any bail.”
NewsNation’s WPIX contributed to this report.