New York Daily News

December 23, 2008 

'Sopranos' actor Lillo Brancato cleared in murder of cop, convicted of attempted burglary

BY MELISSA GRACE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

A slain cop's sister cried junk justice last night after a Bronx jury acquitted actor-turned-junkie Lillo Brancato of murdering Officer Daniel Enchautegui.

"I'm disappointed, I'm disappointed," a shocked Yolanda Rosa said. "What message is this sending out to the New York City police officers today?"

Rosa said she was baffled that Brancato was found guilty only of trying to burglarize his buddy's house - the crime that sparked the confrontation that left her brother dead.

"Oh my God," Rosa said. "I waited three long years for this. ... It's wrong."

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said Brancato was just as guilty as his accomplice, Steven Armento, who shot Enchautegui at point-blank range.

"This would not have happened if not for this animal's drug habit," said Lynch. "The only good thing is that this skunk is not walking out to spend Christmas with his family. The sad part is that neither is Daniel."

Brancato, 32, faces from 3-1/2 to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 9, and prosecutor Terry Gottlieb said she will ask for the max.

"He's going to jail for a very long time," Gottlieb said.

Don't count on it, countered Brancato's lawyer Joseph Tacopina, who said his client has already spent three years in jail awaiting trial and could walk with time served.

"The worst is behind Mr. Brancato," he said. "He's very relieved."

Brancato briefly closed his eyes when the verdict was announced, while his mother, seated a couple of rows back, began sobbing. Afterward, Brancato's family fled the courtroom without comment.

It took the jury four days of often contentious debating to reach a verdict that outraged Rosa and police groups, who wanted Brancato jailed for life just like Armento, 52, who was convicted earlier of murder.

Brancato was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the killing of the 28-year-old officer on Dec. 10, 2005.

In order for that charge to stick, the jury needed to believe two things: first, that Brancato was trying to break into the Bronx home of a friend, Kenneth Scovotti, in a frantic search for drugs; and second, he knew Armento was packing a .357 magnum.

One juror said the jury did not put much faith in key prosecution witness Joseph Borelli, a drug dealer who served three years for shooting at two cops. He testified that Brancato knew Armento was armed.

"There was no conclusive evidence Lillo was conscious of [Armento] having a gun. On the first charge, that was it," said juror Arnaldo Nuñez, 44.

Juror John Bosley, 50, found fault with the police work at the murder scene. Some officers who testified admitted not taking notes at the crime scene.

"The sloppy police work was a big [issue] for us," said Bosley, a clerk at a law office. "You don't take notes? Come on."

As a result, the jury acquitted Brancato of a felony murder charge that could have ended in a life sentence.

Brancato's risky decision to take the stand paid off, at least on the biggest charges.

The actor who once starred opposite Robert De Niro in the film "A Bronx Tale" and appeared on "The Sopranos" told the court he was no killer but admitted being a junkie.

The jury believed Brancato's testimony that Scovotti, a Vietnam vet, supplied him with prescription drugs and often let him crash at his pad. But they thought Brancato went too far when, by his own admission, he smashed Scovotti's window - unaware that his friend had died several months earlier, Nuñez said.

Enchautegui, who was awakened by the breaking glass, came out to investigate and was shot by Armento.

With Edgar Sandoval

mgrace@nydailynews.com