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Actor, alleged accomplice, charged in murder of NY policeman

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- An actor who once played a dimwitted, aspiring mobster on "The Sopranos" and another man face murder charges in the death of an off-duty police officer who shot them both as they fled from a home they were breaking into, authorities said Sunday.

Steven Armento, 48, and Lillo Brancato Jr., 29, _ who remained hospitalized in critical condition Sunday _ were known to neighbors as rabble-rousers with drug problems. They said that Brancato often fought with his on-and-off girlfriend, one of Armento's daughters.

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

Investigators believe Armento and Brancato broke into a home in the Bronx intending to rob a drug dealer and hit the wrong location, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity as NYPD officials often do when an investigation is ongoing.

Armento made a statement implicating himself in the shooting, the police official said.

Enchautegui, who had returned home after a late-night shift and wasn't in uniform, heard the sound of smashing glass next door shortly after 5 a.m. Saturday, police said. The officer called his landlord and dialed 911 to report a possible burglary, then intercepted the men, police said.

Enchautegui, who joined the police force three years ago, managed to shoot both suspects several times after he was wounded in the chest, police said.

He was the second city police officer killed in less than two weeks. Officer Dillon Stewart was shot to death on Nov. 28 during a car chase in Brooklyn.

Brancato became friends with Armento over a year ago after he began dating Stefanie Armento, said neighbor Paula Izurieta. She said she often heard the couple fighting, and had a long talk with Brancato after one argument a few weeks ago.

"I went down to talk to him to try to get him to go to rehab," she said. "He was supposed to go that Monday but he didn't."

She said Brancato had grown increasingly withdrawn over the last year. "His skin was yellowish, he was thin as anything."

Brancato, who was arrested in June for heroin possession, was arrested in Yonkers two days before the shooting after one of Armento's daughters called in a harassment complaint, Yonkers police said. He was also charged with disorderly conduct.

Izurieta, 25, and her fiancee, Frank Caiola, 31, said they had an order of protection out against Armento, whom Caiola said had hit him in early 2004.

Brancato got his acting break as a 16-year-old in the Robert De Niro-directed film "A Bronx Tale" in 1993. He also played mob wannabe Matt Bevilacqua in a half-dozen episodes of the 1999-2000 season of "The Sopranos," eventually getting executed by fictional mob boss Tony Soprano. He appeared in a dozen other films, including "Crimson Tide" and "Enemy of the State."

The two men also face burglary and weapons possession offenses, Reed said. He did not know if the men had lawyers yet. They remained hospitalized in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center, spokesman Michael Heller said.


Associated Press Writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.

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