SOPRANOS actor Lillo Brancato Jr. has taken the stand in his murder trial, and denied knowing his accomplice, who shot an off-duty policeman during an apartment raid, was armed with a gun.
Officer Daniel Enchautegui was shot dead by Brancato's friend Steven Armento when he disturbed the pair allegedly breaking into his neighbour's Bronx, New York home on 10 December 2005.
Armento was convicted at an earlier trial and sentenced to life imprisonment. Brancato - who was shot and wounded by Enchautegui - is charged with second-degree murder, but is attempting to escape a guilty verdict by challenging police claims he was committing a burglary at the time of the shooting.
The star faced questioning for the first time in the murder trial on Monday (15Dec08) and described the night the murder took place.
Brancato claims he had known the owner of the house for several years and had permission to go inside and take painkillers and other pills - but didn't know the man had died earlier that year.
He said the pills were part of a drug problem that began when he was "introduced to marijuana" on the set of 1993 movie A Bronx Tale and he later became hooked on crack and heroin.
He told the jury that while suffering from judgment-impairing heroin withdrawals on the night of the shooting, he accidentally broke the kitchen window of the apartment in a desperate attempt to wake up his old pill-supplier
He says,."I was becoming dope sick. Mentally, I was a mess."
Brancato and Armento left the house to try to get drugs from a dealer but later returned, which is when they came face-to-face with the officer: "I heard someone say, 'Don't move.' I turned around quickly and I was shot twice."
The actor said he ran away, not knowing he'd been shot by a police officer. When uniformed officers stopped him, he lifted up his shirt to show them he was wounded and said, "Please help me. I don't want to die."
Anticipating a backlash against his testimony, Brancato's attorney Joseph Tacopina asked "Is this a role you're playing today?", to which he replied, "Absolutely not." The trial continues.
The actor says he isn't "holding out for more money or doing anything like that".
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