On Trial in Cop-Killing, ‘Bronx Tale’ Star Dims
Faces ‘Blue’ Jury as Well
Dec. 5, 2008
By Tommy Hallissey
With his hands cuffed behind the back of his brown suit, Lillo Brancato walked into Bronx Supreme Court Nov. 25, the second day of his trial for the murder of an NYPD cop, and lifted his head long enough to see a dozen police officers seated in the courtroom, waiting to hear two of their colleagues testify against him.
A black female officer glared at the star of “A Bronx Tale,” her gaze never wavering, while other officers sat with arms folded against their chests. Some just squinted. All came from the 40th Precinct, where Daniel Enchautegui had worked before he was murdered on Dec. 10, 2005.
Famous Line Haunts Him Now
Mr. Brancato, who also played a small-time hood in “The Sopranos,” fidgeted in his chair. He looked sharp, with close-cropped black hair and an expensive suit, despite his day-old beard. Not that long ago, he could have been in front of a camera, saying lines like “the saddest thing in life is wasted talent,” as he did at the end of “A Bronx Tale,” except now the words are freighted with irony.
On this day, he listened to two cops recount the night Officer Enchautegui was murdered and his own talent jumped the precipice of being wasted.
Retired NYPD officer Courtney Mapp told the jury he heard two loud bangs, which he thought came from a large-caliber weapon, while he was at a bagel shop near the scene of the shooting. After the initial “boom, boom,” he said he heard a rapid-fire sucession of shots that sounded like “bap, bap, bap, bap … ” Mr. Mapp responded and encountered a bleeding Mr. Brancato on the street. “I’ve been shot; that bitch shot me,” Mr. Mapp testified Mr. Brancato said of Mr. Enchautegui, who was not in uniform. (Mr. Brancato’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, who first came to prominence defending one of the cops in the Abner Louima case, had told jurors a day earlier that his client was unaware the man he spoke of was a police officer.)
Across the courtroom, police officers glared at Mr. Brancato, who remained expressionless in his chair.
Officer Mapp testified that he went to look for the man who shot the actor, but instead encountered Steven Armento, the friend of Mr. Brancato who had fatally wounded Officer Enchautegui. Mr Mapp recounted in detail how he wrestled the gun from Mr. Armento, who was wearing Latex gloves.
Mr. Armento was sentenced to life in prison Nov. 13 for being the actual killer, but Mr. Brancato is accused of murder for his role as an accessory because they were allegedly trying to rob an old friend of his whom they didn’t know had recently died.
Got ‘Officer Down’ Call
Det. John Latanzio, an 18-year veteran of the NYPD who is assigned to the Emergency Services Unit, testified next. He was working the midnight to 8 a.m. shift when he heard a call for shots fired in the vicinity of Arnow Place in the Bronx. “We were advised there was a 10-13, an officer down,” he told the jury. He said from the moment he saw Officer Enchautegui he was “limp, unconscious and unresponsive” with his “head stretched back.”
Detective Latanzio, who is a certified Emergency Medical Technician, tried to revive Officer Enchautegui. “It was pretty cold and I did not feel a pulse that night at all,” he said. He then recounted how he had to roll the officer out of his jacket to try to revive him as two police officers seated against the wall listened intently with their right hands on their foreheads. Then one sighed deeply
Best Efforts in Vain
The Detective rode with Mr. Enchautegui to the hospital as paramedics tried to revive him after removing his Police Officer’s shield, which was around his neck and over his shirt. “They went above and beyond; everyone was on their game,” he said in the courtroom of the trauma team. “Then they pronounced Officer Enchautegui … “
Mr. Enchautegui’s sister, Yolanda Rosa, looked down, trying to control her emotions, and then took off her glasses to wipe away tears before slumping forward and sobbing. Mr. Brancato never looked back.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch sat among his members intently listening to the testimony, and later told reporters, “What we see here today is the difference between a self-indulgent junkie thug and the professionalism of the police officeres who have, even through emotion, even through responding to an officer down, even having to secure a Police Officer’s shield, which we hold close to our heart, they went by the numbers, they were professional, while this mope sits there just worried about himself, not taking responsibility for his actions. He thought he was a tough guy that night; well, he’s a coward now behind that table before that judge.”
Without taking questions, Mr. Lynch turned around to take a place in line with the rest of the police officers to applaud Mr. Enchautegui’s family as they walked out of the courtroom for lunch break. They clapped loudly in unison as Ms. Rosa emerged, and sustained the applause as she walked by with her head held up.
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