Tuesday, December 31, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) — A former "Sopranos" actor convicted for his real-life role in the slaying of an off-duty police officer during a botched break-in at a Bronx home was released from prison Tuesday and put on parole.
Lillo Brancato Jr. was freed after serving time for a 2008 burglary conviction. At the same trial, he was acquitted on a second-degree murder count that carried a possible sentence of 25 years to life.
Brancato was sentenced to 10 years in prison in January 2009. At the time, he had already served three years in jail while awaiting trial and was eligible for a conditional release in July 2014.
He earned an earlier release by taking college courses and meeting disciplinary standards, officials said. He was ordered to report to his parole officer in suburban Westchester County, where he will live and remain under supervision until the end of 2018, they added.
Brancato, 37, was freed over the vehement objections of police union officials, who insisted he should have been convicted of murder.
"This union will take any steps necessary to ensure that this miscreant follows the conditions of his parole down to the last letter," Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in statement.
There was no immediate response to a message left Tuesday with Brancato's lawyer.
Brancato was an unknown when he got his big break starring opposite Robert De Niro in the 1993 film "A Bronx Tale." He later landed smaller film and television roles, most memorably in "The Sopranos," playing a bumbling, wannabe mobster who gets killed by Tony Soprano.
By 2005, Brancato started having minor brushes with the law, including an arrest for heroin possession. He began hanging out with Steven Armento, a low-level Genovese crime family associate until he was banished for drug addiction, authorities said.
According to prosecutors, the actor and the older man were drinking together at the Crazy Horse Cabaret strip club in 2005 in the Bronx before when they decided to break into a basement apartment nearby and steal Valium. Armento carried a .357-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun.
The sound of shattering glass awoke off-duty Officer Daniel Enchautegui, who lived in the neighborhood. He grabbed his badge and gun and confronted the men in an alley. A fierce gunbattle erupted, with Armento firing first, prosecutors said.
Enchautegui suffered a fatal wound to the chest. Before he died, he managed to empty his eight-shot pistol, hitting Armento six times and Brancato twice, police said. Backup officers caught a bloodied Brancato trying to get into his car, while Armento had collapsed nearby.
Prosecutors had argued that although Brancato was unarmed and did not fire any shots, he deserved a murder conviction because he acted in concert with Armento. Brancato testified that the break-in never happened, claiming he knew the owner of the home and had permission to go inside and take painkillers and other pills.
At a separate trial, Armento was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Brancato must seek employment, submit to drug tests and enter a treatment program as conditions of his parole. At sentencing, he told the judge he wanted a new start.
"I'm not talking about resuming an acting career," he said. "I am talking about being a good son, brother, friend and citizen."
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