From The New York Times on Jan. 9th 2009:
10-Year Sentence for ‘Sopranos’ Actor
Rob Bennett for The New York Times
By JOHN ELIGON
Published: January 9, 2009
Lillo Brancato Jr., the former actor who was convicted of attempted burglary for his role in a 2005 shooting in the Bronx that left an off-duty police officer dead, was sentenced on Friday to 10 years in prison.
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Left, David Greene/Associated Press; right, NYPD
Lillo Brancato Jr., left, had been acquitted of murder in the death of Officer Enchautegui, right.
With good behavior, Mr. Brancato, who has already been locked up for three years, could get out in five years.
The sentence, imposed by Justice Martin Marcus of State Supreme Court in the Bronx, was met with disappointment on both sides. Justice Marcus could have sentenced Mr. Brancato to as few as 3 ½ years and as many as 15.
Mr. Brancato’s mother, Domenica, began weeping after Justice Marcus announced the sentence.
Outside the courtroom, John P. Puglissi, a top police union official, said: “We’re severely disappointed that the judge did not have the courage to follow through and give the maximum sentence to this low-life drug addict, washed-up actor, Lillo Brancato. This is a travesty of justice.”
Holding back tears, Yolanda Rosa, sister of the slain officer, Daniel Enchautegui, said, “I’m disappointed in the judicial system right now.” She said that no matter what the jury ruled, Mr. Brancato would “always be a murderer.”
Mr. Brancato, 32, who has appeared in “The Sopranos” and the movie “A Bronx Tale,” faced the possibility of life in prison when his trial started, in November. Prosecutors charged him with felony murder, arguing that although he was unarmed and did not fire the shots that killed Officer Enchautegui on Dec. 10, 2005, he acted in concert with Steven Armento, the man who did.
A jury acquitted Mr. Brancato of the murder charge last month. Mr. Armento, 51, was convicted of murder in a separate trial in October and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Joseph Tacopina, Mr. Brancato’s lawyer, pleaded with Justice Marcus to impose the minimum sentence, citing cases in which first-time felony offenders like Mr. Brancato were given sentences toward the low end of the guidelines.
But the sentence did not surprise Mr. Tacopina, who said he knew that the minimum “was never a realistic sentence.”
“This judge had an enormous amount of pressure on him,” Mr. Tacopina said, referring to comments made by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg criticizing the jury’s verdict.
“For appointed officials to criticize the verdict, it makes you wonder why anyone would want to serve jury duty,” Mr. Tacopina said.
Mr. Tacopina urged the judge to consider sending his client for drug treatment, rather than further prison time.
Throughout the trial, the defense argued that Mr. Brancato had long been a drug addict, and said that on the night of the shooting he was high and trying to get into the house of a friend who had provided him with drugs many times.
In a brief statement delivered before announcing his sentence, Justice Marcus acknowledged that although Mr. Brancato’s battle with drugs was sad, “it does not excuse your role in those events.”
“While I accept that verdict, in sentencing you I cannot ignore the fact that as a result of the attempted burglary of which you were convicted, a brave, young police officer is dead,” the judge said.
According to trial testimony, Mr. Brancato and Mr. Armento could not get into the house of Mr. Brancato’s friend, Kenneth Scovotti, who, unknown to them, had died a few months earlier.
Mr. Brancato kicked out a window. They left briefly to go to another man’s house to try to get drugs, but were turned away and returned to Mr. Scovotti’s home.
Officer Enchautegui, a neighbor, was awakened by the breaking glass, called 911, then went outside to check on what was happening. In the ensuing confrontation, Officer Enchautegui, 28, shot both Mr. Brancato and Mr. Armento. But Mr. Armento fatally wounded the officer with a shot to the chest, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors argued that Mr. Brancato was guilty of felony murder, meaning that while he was committing a crime — burglary, in this case — his actions led to the death of another person. A critical point in the case was whether Mr. Brancato knew that Mr. Armento had a gun. Prosecutors argued that he did know, and presented a witness who testified that Mr. Armento brandished his gun at him earlier that night while Mr. Brancato was present.
Mr. Brancato denied knowing that Mr. Armento was armed.
With her face turning red with outrage at times, Teresa Gottlieb, the Bronx assistant district attorney who tried the case, told Justice Marcus before sentencing, “This case cries for the maximum.”
Ms. Gottlieb said she did not believe that Mr. Brancato was a changed man, referring to an episode in which he overdosed on drugs at the prison chapel.
“This is a person who only thinks of himself,” she said.
Speaking in a calm tone before he was sentenced, Mr. Brancato told Justice Marcus that he was eager to start his life anew.
“I’m not talking about resuming an acting career,” he said. “I am talking about being a good son, brother, friend and citizen.”
As the sentence was read, Mr. Brancato showed no expression and was led off in handcuffs.
For more about how he acted when he got out of the murder charge at his trial last month, see: