Former 'Sopranos' actor and friend face murder charges in officer's shooting

Monday, December 12, 2005

NEW YORK -- An actor who once played an aspiring mobster on "The Sopranos" faces murder charges along with another man in the death of an off-duty police officer, authorities said Sunday.

Lillo Brancato Jr., 29, was hospitalized in critical condition with gunshot wounds suffered when the officer shot him after catching two men breaking into a home. Brancato's friend Steven Armento, 48, was also shot and in critical condition.

Prosecutors were in the process Sunday of charging Armento with first- and second-degree murder and Brancato with second-degree murder in the death Saturday of officer Daniel Enchautegui, 28, said Steven Reed, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.

The two men also face burglary and weapons possession offenses, Reed said. He did not know if either had lawyers who could comment.

Enchautegui, a three-year veteran of the force, had returned home after a late-night shift when he heard glass breaking next door. He called 911 to report a possible burglary, then went after the men, police said.

The officer was shot in the chest but managed to shoot both suspects several times, police said.

Brancato appeared in more than a dozen films. On "The Sopranos," he played mobster wannabe Matt Bevilacqua in a half-dozen episodes before he was executed by the mob boss.

Enchautegui was the second New York City police officer killed in less than two weeks; officer Dillon Stewart was shot to death Nov. 28 during a car chase.

A former supervisor, Sgt. Cyress Smith, said Enchautegui was a dedicated policeman and well-liked in the 40th Precinct. It's now eery, he said, to remember that Enchautegui was a big fan of "The Sopranos."

"He loved the job, and it showed in his performance," Smith said. "His interactions with the public -- very respectful. His interactions with his peers -- they loved him."

Associated Press Writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.

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