Brancato Jr. sentenced to prison for burglary
NEW YORK (AP) — A former actor on “The Sopranos” was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for a botched burglary in the Bronx in which an accomplice shot and killed an off-duty police officer.A jury acquitted Lillo Brancato Jr. of second-degree murder in the death of the police officer, but convicted him of attempted burglary. He had faced up to 15 years in prison. He pursed his lips and appeared calm as the verdict was pronounced. His relatives wept and one shouted, “We love you, Lillo!” as he was led away in handcuffs. Before sentencing, Brancato, whose drug addiction figured prominently in testimony during the trial in the Bronx, begged the court for mercy. “I’m not talking about redeeming my acting career,” he said. “I’m talking about much more than that. I’m talking about being a good son, brother, friend and citizen.” But state Supreme Court Justice Martin Marcus wasn’t swayed. “I cannot ignore the fact that, because of the burglary, a brave young police officer is dead,” he said, calling Brancato’s drug abuse “a sad story of good fortune and extraordinary opportunity that was wasted and abused.” Prosecutors said Brancato and accomplice Steven Armento were looking for drugs when they broke into an apartment next door to the officer’s home in December 2005. When Officer Daniel Enchautegui went to investigate, he was gunned down. Authorities said Armento shot the 28-year-old officer with his .357 Magnum, hitting him in the heart. The dying officer fired back, wounding both men. Armento was convicted last year of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence without parole. The acquittal in the murder case against Brancato outraged the slain officer’s family and the union that represents police officers. On Friday, a sea of uniformed officers and detectives packed the courtroom and cheered for Enchautegui’s family. The victim’s sister, Yolanda Rosa Nazario, told the court that their parents gave up the will to live and eventually died after losing their son. “I lost Danny, my dad and my mom because of two men who wanted to drink and do drugs,” she said tearfully. After the sentencing, she said of Brancato: “He’ll always be a murderer, no matter what the jury said.” Prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence in the attempted burglary conviction. Brancato has already served three years waiting for his trial, for which he will receive credit. His attorney, Joseph Tacopina, said outside court that Brancato would use the time in jail to straighten out his life with the help of his family. Tacopina had sought the minimum 3 1/2 years, and friends and family had written letters on Brancato’s behalf. Brancato rose to fame in 1993’s “A Bronx Tale,” playing a young kid from the neighborhood who is torn between two worlds and two men: a local mobster played by Chazz Palminteri and his straight-and-narrow bus driver father, played by Robert De Niro. Other roles followed, most notably a stint on the second season of HBO’s “The Sopranos.” His character carried out a series of low-level crimes for the New Jersey mob before being gunned down by Tony Soprano and his sidekick as he tearfully begged for his life. Brancato, 32, and Armento, 48, were drinking together at a strip club before deciding to break into the basement apartment in a hunt for Valium, prosecutors said. Brancato testified that the break-in never happened. He claimed that he had known the owner, a Vietnam veteran, for several years. He also said he had permission to go inside and take painkillers and other pills whenever he felt like it, and didn’t know the man had died earlier that year. He also said he was suffering from heroin withdrawal that night. He said the pills were part of a drug problem that began when he was introduced to marijuana on the set of “A Bronx Tale.” He later became hooked on crack and heroin. Brancato tried to deflect suggestions by the prosecution that his testimony – at times punctuated by vignettes about his drug-crazed downfall – was another acting job.