January 10, 2009

Ex-Sopranos actor gets 10 years in cop slay case


At her home in Lynbrook, Yolanda Rosa Nazario, 44, sits on her couch next to a photo of her brother, Daniel Enchautegui, a city police officer who was gunned down after attempting to stop a burglary in the Bronx in 2005. (Photo by James Carbone)  

The sister of a New York City police officer killed in a botched burglary involving Lillo Brancato Jr. told a judge Friday that the former actor on "The Sopranos" was not convicted of murder but "he was as guilty as his accomplice."

Brancato, who dodged the murder conviction given to his accomplice, Steven Armento, was sentenced by Bronx State Supreme Court Judge Martin Marcus to 10 years in prison for his role in the death of off-duty NYPD Officer Daniel Enchautegul in December 2005.

The former actor faced a maximum sentence of 15 years following his conviction on attempted burglary charges.

With time already served, Brancato could be out in about five years, officials said.

The first vice president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, John Puglissi, called the sentence "a travesty of justice," saying Brancato was "a low-life drug addict" and a "washed-up actor."

Outside the courtroom Yolanda Rosa Nazario, the victim's sister, said of Brancato: "He'll always be a murderer, no matter what the judge said. He's a murderer. He knows he's a murderer."

It was Armento who was convicted of the shooting of Enchautegul, who was off duty and came to investigate when the two broke into a nearby apartment to steal prescription drugs following a night of drinking in December 2005. Armento is serving a life sentence.

Dressed in a dark brown suit, Brancato told the court he wished to send his sympathies to the family of Enchautegul.

"There is not a day that goes by that I do not pray for him or his family," Brancato said. "He will forever, until the day I die, be in my thoughts and prayers," Brancato said.

Brancato told the court that while he had "made mistakes" he still believes that "at my core I am a good and decent person." He told the judge he had "cleaned up" his drug habit -- and said he wanted to one day be able to resume his life.

"I'm not talking about resuming an acting career," he said. "I am talking about becoming a good son, brother, citizen."

Assistant district attorney Terry Gottlieb told the court a much different Bronx tale, saying the story told by Brancato might have included a bit of acting. She said Brancato had been involved in "four or five" infractions while incarcerated at Rikers Island — including two for drugs.

One of those, Gottlieb said, included scoring drugs in the bathroom of a chapel just before church services.

The judge acknowledged that while Brancato had been convicted of attempted burglary the case was "not a simple burglary attempt."

He said: "A brave young police officer is dead."

Nazario told the court that the role Brancato played in the death of her brother did not just kill the officer that December night.

She said it also killed her parents, both of whom have died since the shooting.

She said Enchautegul had cared for their father, who had lost a leg to cancer. And she said that following the shooting, her father lost the will to live -- declining rapidly.

"My dad went straight downhill after Danny's death," Nazario told the court, "not taking his medication, saying he wanted to be with Danny.

"He willed himself to die."

She also told the court she could only remember one time when her mother smiled following the shooting death.

That was when her mother was on her deathbed.

"She also lost her will to live," Nazario said. "She gave up."