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SOPRANOS ACTOR TO STAND TRIAL FOR MURDER
By Ian Markham-Smith - Posted on 09 November 2008
Sopranos TV Mafia crime family series actor Lillo Brancato Jr. is to go on trial next week accused of a real life murder.
If convicted the 32-year-old actor, who played aspiring mobster Matt Bevilaqua on the show and has appeared in numerous Hollywood movies, could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
A conviction would bring to an end an acting career that became in 1993 when at the age of 17 when Hollywood legend Robert De Niro cast him in his big screen New York crime drama A Bronx Tale.
De Niro, who directed the flick and starred in it, gave Brancato the role as his son who was being groomed by a Mafia boss.
Brancato went on to have roles in such movies as Renaissance Man with Danny DeVito, Crimson Tide with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, Enemy of the State with Will Smith and again Hackman and The Adventures of Pluto Nash with Eddie Murphy in 2005.
But his personal life was spiralling out of control because of drug addiction.
Now a judge has ordered that Brancato, who has been charged in the December 2005 slaying of off-duty New York police officer Daniel Enchautegui, should go on trial on November 17.
Brancato's co-defendant Steven Armento, who actually shot the officer, was convicted of first-degree murder on October 30. He faces life in prison without parole when he is sentenced on November 14, just three days before his alleged partner-in-crime goes on trial.
Authorities say Enchautegui confronted the pair when they two broke into a New York apartment to steal prescription drugs.
Brancato has said he did not know Armento had a gun.
The disgraced actor's father, Lillo Brancato, insists that his son is not guilty of murder - and instead claims he was a victim.
"He never killed nobody," 61-year-old Brancato Sr. said as the once-promising actor prepares for his trial. "I support him 100%."
Brancato said he will attend his adopted son's trial and is truly sorry for the family of the slain officer.
"What can I say? I'm sorry," he said. "But my son had no gun in his hand - and he got shot."
Enchautegui was off-duty and responding to a burglary outside his Pelham Bay home when he was fatally shot.
The younger Brancato's 51-year-old drug friend Armento was convicted of shooting the officer once in the chest at point-blank range when the cop tried to stop the pair from breaking into his neighbour's apartment.
Before he died, Enchautegui cop squeezed off eight rounds from his service weapon - striking Armento six times and Brancato twice.
Prosecutors charge that Brancato is as guilty as Armento, even though he was unarmed. If he is convicted of first-degree murder, Brancato faces life in prison without parole.