Former Sopranos' Actor on Trial for Murder

Lillo Brancato Jr., who played Matthew Bevilaqua in the Sopranos and the young kid alongside Robert DeNiro in the movie Bronx Tale, is on trial in the Bronx on second degree murder and burglary charges.

His attorney (and long-time TL pal) Joe Tacopina told the jury Brancato is a drug addict, not a killer.

[Police]Officer Enchautegui, who lived next door and was asleep at the time, awoke when he heard a window break, prosecutors said. He confronted the men and shot both, but was killed when Mr. Armento shot him in the chest, prosecutors said. Mr. Armento was convicted of first-degree murder last month and sentenced to life in prison.

What the prosecution has to prove: [More...]

The prosecution contends that Mr. Brancato intended to commit burglary. To prove felony murder, it must show that burglary was Mr. Brancato’s intent, and that Officer Enchautegui died as a result.

During opening argument:

....Joseph Tacopina, asked the jury not to “compound one tragedy with another by taking the life of an innocent individual who sits before you in this trial.”

.... Mr. Tacopina said his client, who faces charges of murder and burglary, was not intending to burglarizethe house, did not have a gun, did not know that Mr. Armento had a gun and was not there to hurt anyone.

The blame for Officer Enchautegui’s death, Mr. Tacopina said, lies with Mr. Armento. “The only person responsible for his death is not in this courtroom today,” he said. “That person is Steven Armento, not Lillo Brancato.”

....Mr. Tacopina said, “He certainly succumbed to another substantial temptation, one that ruined his life, hurt his family, and that’s something that he deals with every day: Lillo Brancato is a drug addict.”

More from the AP:

"Lillo was there to satisfy his addiction. But he wasn't there to do violence — and that's important," Tacopina said in his opening statement. Tacopina denied that his client ever entered the apartment, and said Brancato did not know Armento had a gun.

The shooting took place at the home of an older friend of Brancatos, Kenneth Scovotti, who had previously provided Brancato with drugs. Unbeknownst to Brancato, Scovotti had died some months earlier and the home was unoccupied. According to the Times:

Mr. Tacopina said that since his client thought Mr. Scovotti was inside, he kicked a window to get his attention, but broke it. Mr. Tacopina said that Mr. Brancato and Mr. Armento then went to another friend’s home to ask for drugs, a sign that his client was not trying to commit a burglary.

According to this AP article:
The case could turn on whether the jury believes Brancato knew Armento was carrying a loaded revolver. Prosecutors say Brancato's drug dealer will testify that Armento had pulled the weapon on the dealer earlier in the night in front of Brancato.

But Tacopina branded the drug dealer a liar angling for leniency in his own legal troubles. Brancato was startled that his friend opened fire, and didn't know the man firing back was a patrolman, he said.

The felony murder rule (explained here and in this New York Times article) is an archaic doctrine that needs to be abolished. Go Joe.

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  • Display: Sort:
    If I didn't know that (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by Fabian on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 03:55:52 AM EST
    the accused was an actual, full grown adult, this story would lead me to believe we were talking about a kid, a teen at best.  The story keeps saying "Poor judgment, poor judgment, poor judgment."  (Maybe organic brain damage?)

    Kicking a window to get someone's attention?  So hard that you break it?

    That implies someone needs to be in the custody of a responsible adult, since they apparently are not an actual responsible, competent adult.

    Remember - this is an addict we're (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by scribe on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 06:27:57 AM EST
    talking about, and things that make sense to an addict don't necessarily make sense to a non-addict.

    Moreover, since it appears the defendant and the deceased (former) occupant of the home whose window was broken had some semblence of a prior relationship, it is entirely within the realm of reason that deriving from that relationship they had a mode of communication in which kicking a window was an acceptable way of waking the former occupant.  Kids in the city will sometimes run down the street and ring every doorbell (not necessarily all the time, but often enough), and the former occupant may have had a policy of not answering the doorbell at all.

    There are a lot of facts which we don't know, and won't, because the coverage is (as is pretty usual) pro-prosecution and pro-string-'im-up.


    Objection, calls for speculation. (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by oculus on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 10:30:26 AM EST
    :acks foundation.

    The felony murder rule (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by snstara on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 08:25:11 AM EST
    reminds me of the 'case' against Derek Bentley, in the U.K.  Bentley, already in police custody at the scene of an attempted break-in, was tried for the death of a policeman.  His 'accomplice', Christopher Craig, was the actual shooter.  

    Because Craig was underage, he was ineligible for the death penalty.  He served 10 years.  Bentley, an 'adult' of 19 with a mental age of 11, was executed.  The sentence he was alleged to have uttered at the scene - 'Let him have it, Chris!' (Let the officer take your gun? Shoot him? No one knows.) - was viewed as particularly damning. He was eventually given a partial, posthumous pardon.

    The British apparently have something called the 'joint enterprise rule'.  In the Bentley case, a review of the facts 45 years later determined that the judge failed to explain to the jury that, in order for it to be a joint enterprise, the prosecution had to prove Bentley knew Craig had been armed at the point of the initial break-in in order to be guilty of the 'joint enterprise' of the shooting that followed.  They failed to do so.  Tried today, Bentley would have been eligible for a retrial. And while the joint enterprise rule is still on the books, the British admit it has troubling aspects that need serious study and revision. That doesn't seem to be the case with the felony murder rule here.

    We've got some draconian laws on the books: given the examples Jeralyn linked to here, the felony murder rule is one of the more insidious, unjust laws.  

    If you want all drugs legalized.... (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by kdog on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 08:42:47 AM EST
    as much as I do, I feel addiction cannot be used an excuse for violent crime in a court of law, or be used in a plea for leniency.  Your addictions are your business, if ya can't control 'em without resorting to violent crime you deserve the same punishment as a sober violent criminal.

    That being said...the felony murder rule does sound whack.  Charge murderers with murder and burglars with burglary...simple enough.

    There is nothing wrong with the felony murder rule (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by nyjets on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 09:02:05 AM EST
    If a group of people particpate in a crime, they are working in concert with one another. If one member murders someone, they should be all held responsible.
    Ex, a group of people break into a bank. Someone shoot a guard. They should be all guilty of murder.
    In this case, if the defendant knew they were breaking into a place, they were working in concert. They are all responsible for what happened.

    But apparently it also applies to people (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by snstara on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 09:33:49 AM EST
    who were not physically there at the scene, 'in' on the 'plot', or physically able to either participate in the crime or prevent its occurrence (and here I'm thinking of the girl handcuffed in the back of the police car).  That's the unfair aspect.

    A valid point (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by nyjets on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 05:28:25 PM EST
    WIth some qualifications, I have to admit you are correct. THe woman in the police car probable should not be charged with murder. THe felony murder charge should probable not have been applied in that case and was not really meant to be applied in that case.
    But the defendent in the case as described above, that is the reason why there is and should be the felony murder rule.

    well (none / 0) (#9)
    by eric on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 09:44:25 AM EST
    we know what the felony murder rule is, and you restate what it is just fine.

    It is still wrong.


    It is not wrong (none / 0) (#22)
    by nyjets on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 05:21:14 PM EST
    I am sorry if it not wrong.
    If you are commiting a felony, you have to know that the odds are high that someone may die.
    You should be held responsible for the actions of your accomplice. There is nothing wrong about that.

    Bentley case (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by DancingOpossum on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 11:41:11 AM EST
    snstara, there was a movie made a few years ago about the Bentley case, titled "Let Him Have It." Haven't seen it but I remember critics raved about it when it came out.

    Thanks! (none / 0) (#20)
    by snstara on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 03:21:28 PM EST
    I'll definitely check that out.

    I first heard about this case in an Elvis Costello song, "Let Him Dangle"...


    AP link states Armento (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 11:03:27 PM EST
    shot the officer through the heart and then the officer fired his gun, hitting both Armento Brancato.

    The defense says (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 11:10:27 PM EST
    Brancato had no idea the shooter was carrying a gun. The New York Times article linked above says:

    [the officer] confronted the men and shot both, but was killed when Mr. Armento shot him in the chest, prosecutors said.

    I wondered how a man who had (none / 0) (#11)
    by oculus on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 10:33:14 AM EST
    been shot in the heart managed to fire off a round.  Reflex?

    I've heard a few real life getting shot (none / 0) (#12)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 11:18:39 AM EST
    acounts anymore, gotta tell ya......those are some dead on reflexes.

    Plus, apparently there is scientific (none / 0) (#14)
    by oculus on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 11:33:56 AM EST
    supporter for the theory even after decapitation the brain keeps working for about 45 seconds.  

    That makes me really sad. (none / 0) (#25)
    by sj on Wed Nov 26, 2008 at 11:31:41 AM EST
    10 seconds (none / 0) (#24)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Wed Nov 26, 2008 at 08:02:33 AM EST

    You have about 10 seconds with no blood flow before you black out.

    I don't for a second believe that (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 11:21:17 AM EST
    Brancato didn't know Armento had a gun.

    I agree w/you. Good thing (none / 0) (#15)
    by oculus on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 11:40:40 AM EST
    we aren't on the jury, from the defense perspective.  Brancato's knowing about the gun before the murder of the off-duty police officer isn't an element of the crimes Brancato is charged with though.

    Really? Thanks. (none / 0) (#17)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 11:50:52 AM EST
    Then is it all about proving he knew they were there to rob the place?

    Prosecutor has the burden of (none / 0) (#18)
    by oculus on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 11:57:01 AM EST
    proof beyond a reasonable doubt Brancato intended to commit burglary (entry w/intent to take real property w/o permission of the owner).  Now if breaking the window was just his little way of letting the occupants know he was outside, . . .

    More damning to me (none / 0) (#19)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Nov 25, 2008 at 12:22:38 PM EST
    is that after they break the window and there was no reaction from inside the house, and then they leave and go to another dealer's house but get turned away, that they returned to that first house where they clearly knew no one was home...