'Sopranos' Actor Seeks Separate Trial in Police Officer's Murder

"Sopranos" actor Lillo Brancato Jr., who is charged with murder in the killing of a police officer, asked a judge Thursday for a separate trial from a co-defendant who he expects to testify in his defense.

Brancato's lawyer, Mel Sachs, said co-defendant Steven Armento could testify that Brancato did not know that Armento had a gun at the time of the Dec. 10 shooting.

Prosecutors agree that Armento was the shooter, but Brancato also is charged with murder because both men were allegedly in the midst of a burglary at a Bronx apartment when off-duty officer Daniel Enchautegui was killed.

Prosecutors say the defendants told police that they had been together at a strip club before breaking into an apartment in search of prescription drugs. Enchautegui, who lived next door, confronted them in an alley and was mortally wounded during a shootout.

Brancato "has an absolute defense as a matter of law to the murder charge," Sachs said after a hearing. "He did not know that Armento had a gun."

Armento, 48, shook his head "no" when Sachs suggested to state Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett that the co-defendant would testify for Brancato.

Sachs also requested that some of Brancato's statements to police in the days immediately after the killing be kept out of any trial. He said because Brancato had been shot twice by Enchautegui before the officer died, his client was in no shape in the hospital to be making statements to police.

The judge did not immediately rule on the attorney's requests. The case was adjourned until July 11.

Brancato, who did not speak, appeared somber in the courtroom, which was jammed with relatives of the accused and the victim, as well as a large contingent of police officers.

Brancato made his debut starring opposite Robert De Niro in "A Bronx Tale" in 1993 and went on to appear in more than a dozen movies. He also had a recurring role in "The Sopranos" as an aspiring mobster.

Armento allegedly was a low-level Genovese crime family associate with a drug problem and a rap sheet dating to 1979. Brancato befriended him after dating his daughter.

Brancato's life went into a tailspin last year, with a pair of drug-related arrests and a disorderly conduct incident just two days before the shooting.