January 10, 2006
By ALAN FEUER
s dozens of police officers and detectives glared at them in court, two men pleaded not guilty yesterday in the fatal shooting of an off-duty officer in the Bronx last month.
The two men, Lillo Brancato Jr., 29, and Steven Armento, 48, both pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, burglary and criminal possession of a weapon in the Dec. 10 slaying of Officer Daniel Enchautegui.
Mr. Brancato is an actor who has had small roles in movies including ''A Bronx Tale'' and in ''The Sopranos''; Mr. Armento has been convicted of burglary and has a record of drug abuse.
According to the indictment, they were looking for Valium when they broke into an apartment identified by investigators as the basement of 1339 Arnow Place. The authorities said that Officer Enchautegui, who lived next door, was awakened by the sound of breaking glass and discovered Mr. Brancato and Mr. Armento in an alley beside his house.
When the officer ordered them to freeze, according to the authorities, he was shot by Mr. Armento but managed to shoot back, wounding both men. The bleeding suspects were arrested by other officers, responding to a 911 call from Officer Enchautegui.
On Dec, 15, Mr. Brancato and Mr. Armento were arraigned on preliminary charges at a Bronx hospital in white smocks and handcuffs that kept them locked to their wheelchairs. Yesterday, they appeared in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, looking relatively fresh and cleanly shorn. At a brief hearing, Justice John P. Collins ordered them held without bail.
The courtroom was packed with perhaps 200 police officers and detectives, some in suits or uniform but many in tennis shoes and sweatshirts. In the hallway outside, several dozen more stood behind a metal barricade and clapped enthusiastically as Officer Enchautegui's parents, Pedro and Maria Rosa, entered the court.
After the proceeding, Mel A. Sachs, Mr. Brancato's lawyer, told reporters that his client was not carrying a gun that day and did not know that Mr. Armento was carrying one.
''Lillo Brancato did not shoot the police officer,'' said Mr. Sachs. ''He is not criminally responsible for the murder.''
As he spoke, a young officer in a windbreaker called out bitterly: ''Celebrity lawyer!''
Moments later, Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, picked up the celebrity theme. He told a group of reporters that Mr. Brancato was an actor who could summon tears upon request, but that inside he was a cold-blooded killer.
''He's an evil man, and you cannot take evil out of a person -- actor or otherwise,'' he said.
Calling the defendants ''mutts'' and ''perps'' in the old-time style, Mr. Lynch went on to say that whenever they appeared in court, ''New York police officers will be there to make sure justice is done.''
At that, the rows of officers behind him on the courthouse steps burst into a round of applause.