NEW YORK – The disgraced "Sopranos" actor charged in the shooting death of a Bronx cop during a drunken hunt for drugs says his heart is breaking for the slain officer's anguished family.
"If I had the chance, I would want to meet his family and look them in the face and tell them how sorry I feel about what happened," Lillo Brancato Jr. said yesterday in an exclusive interview on Rikers Island.
"I would tell them that if there is anything I could do to help — and I know it won't bring their son back — but if there is anything I could do to make their life easier, I would do it," he told The Post.
Brancato, 29, who starred in Robert De Niro's "A Bronx Tale" and in the second season of "The Sopranos," said he wept when he read a newspaper story about the funeral of the slain young cop, Daniel Enchautegui.
"When I saw the picture of his father, it brought tears to my eyes because he looked like one of those old-fashioned men — kind of like my father," Brancato said. "I also thought that that could have been my father going to my funeral."
At that, he put his head down and his piercing brown eyes began tearing up.
Regaining his composure, the rail-thin Brancato — wearing a light gray jumpsuit, orange socks and prison sandals — said he wanted to meet Enchautegui's family and tell them how bad he feels.
"I'm not a cop killer. I value life," he said.
"I love cops. I respect them. I admire them — especially after 9/11. I would never have wanted to take a cop's life — or any life."
Brancato is charged with felony murder in Enchautegui's death — participating in a crime that led to the fatal shooting. His co-defendant, Steven Armento, is charged with firing the fatal shot.
Brancato said he is considering taking the stand at his trial and telling the jury "how horrible I feel about my stupidity."
As he spoke, he looked directly at a reporter — and again, his eyes began misting up.
In the 40-minute interview, Brancato — who had a 5 o'clock shadow and unkempt, curly hair — made the sign of the cross each time he mentioned Enchautegui's name.
He repeated what his lawyers have maintained — that he was unaware his accomplice Armento was carrying a weapon.
"I didn't know that he had a gun," he said.
"If I would have known, I wouldn't have allowed him in my car. Imagine, we get pulled over and I get caught with an armed felon in my car.
"Since I've been in the movies, it would have instantly drawn attention."
Brancato and Armento, 48, a convicted burglar and the father of the actor's ex-girlfriend, have both been charged with murder in the death of Enchautegui, 28, who was shot to death at about 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 10.
Prosecutors say that after a night of drinking at Crazy Horse, a Bronx strip club, the two Yonkers men went to the Bronx home of Kenneth Scovotti, a Vietnam veteran, in a bid to steal Valium.
Scovotti, 63, a Brancato acquaintance, died in July and Brancato had gone to his home several times to steal the drug, prosecutors said.
But he and Armento were unaware that the basement apartment had been cleaned out two days earlier and the Valium stash was gone.
Enchautegui, a three-year NYPD veteran, heard the men breaking a window to get in and went to investigate, his gun out and his badge in plain sight.
Prosecutors say Armento panicked, pulled a gun and shot the hero cop.
Although mortally wounded, the officer managed to get off eight shots, hitting Armento six times and Brancato twice. Both are recovering.
Brancato, who suffered two chest wounds, said he has spoken with Armento, who is also at Rikers. Brancato said he believes his co-defendant will testify he hid the gun from the actor.
"I'm not bringing you down with me," Brancato quoted Armento as telling him.
He also said the older man "feels bad for dragging me into it."
Brancato had dated Armento's daughter, Stefanie, 20, but they broke up after six months.
But the actor wouldn't take no for an answer and, two days before the shooting, he was arrested for causing a disturbance at the Armento home.
Brancato told The Post he hung out with Armento as a way of maintaining contact with Stefanie.
"I was hoping that when I went to visit Steven, I might see Stefanie pulling up in her car," he said.
He claimed that of all of Stefanie's boyfriends, he was the only one Armento liked.
The disgraced actor openly admitted he has a problem with drugs and alcohol and blamed it on the fact he was adopted.
"There's something missing in my life. There's a hole, a sort of emptiness," he said.
Brancato said he began messing around with drugs when he went to Hollywood as a teenager.
Subsequently, he said, he had an accident, was given painkillers and got hooked on them.
That led to sniffing heroin, he said.
Brancato said he's thinking about making a movie about his life — he could write the script in prison — to serve as a warning about the dangers of drugs.
He has discussed the project with actor Chazz Palminteri, he said.
"By doing this, it might help other kids avoid getting mixed up with drugs," Brancato said.
"If I'm given the chance, I will never, ever do drugs again."
The actor said that after the shooting, he ran for his car.
"At first I didn't feel anything. But as I ran up the block, the pain started very slowly. And then I realized I couldn't talk," he said.
"I remembered lying in the ambulance trying to talk, trying to tell them my side of the story."
Brancato also said that as far as his claim that he did know Armento had a gun, "I know there is someone out there who will believe me."