Jan 09, 2009 12:38 PM
NEW YORK – A former actor on "The Sopranos" was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for his role in a botched burglary that ended in the killing of an off-duty New York police officer.
Lillo Brancato Jr., who was acquitted of second-degree murder in the slaying of Officer Daniel Enchautegui, could have gotten up to 15 years in prison for his conviction on attempted burglary.
The actor appeared outwardly 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, beacuse 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 broke into an apartment to steal prescription drugs after a night of drinking in December 2005. Armento is serving a life sentence without parole.
Enchautegui, who lived next door and was off duty, came out to investigate. Armento blasted the 28-year-old officer with his .357 Magnum, hitting him in the heart. The dying officer fired back, wounding both men.
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.''
Armento was convicted last year of first-degree murder.
The acquittal in the murder case against Brancato outraged the slain officer's family and the union that represents police officers.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence in the attempted burglary conviction. Brancato has already served three years behind bars waiting for his trial, for which he will receive credit.
Brancato rose to fame in the 1993 movie "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 "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 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.