Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Brancato Murder Trial Begins

CNN reports on the beginning of the Lillo Brancato trial for murder. As we discussed before, Lillo is accused of Second Degree Murder because he was present during the burglary when his partner Steven Armento shot and killed Officer Daniel Enchautegui.

Brancato's attorney, Joseph Tacopina, told the jury his client was an addict who "ruined his life" with drugs and was "clearly strung out" at the time of the slaying.

But he argued that the true culprit was Armento, who was convicted of first-degree murder on October 30 and has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

According to the article, it could all hinge upon whether the jury believes Brancato knew Armento was armed. What do you think? Should that matter?

I'm thinking it was a dangerous and reckless errand the two of them were engaged in, but no one planned on murder. As tragic as this scene is, especially for the family of the brave officer who lost his life responding in the middle of the night to noises he'd heard, I can't see it as First Degree Murder, especially for Brancato.

What's your opinion? Is there any mitigation of culpability based upon their being addicts? Should addicts, driven by drug lust, be treated exactly the same as every one else?

Please feel free to leave a comment. Can we all agree that it's a terrible waste? Lillo Brancato had a shot at a prosperous acting career.


  1. Mike,

    Sorry but it doesn't matter if he know that Armento was armed or not in my opinion. This isn't a new part of a law, it is established and well known. If a person is committing a crime and someone gets hurts, that person shares in the responsibility for that injury.

    Brancato knew it was illegal to break into another apartment, knew it was illegal to steal, knew it was illegal to use someone else's prescription and he still did it.

    Sorry but this wasn't a dangerous and reckless errand, it was a serious crime and should be treated that way.

    I also want to point out the fact that while the "officer" was in fact a cop, that night he was just a person trying to protect his neighbors home. Not a cop on duty responding but just an average citizen doing what we all should do, try to stop crimes.

    Society must send a strong message that says shooting someone because they came to investigate noises is wrong and will be strictly punished. Society must send a strong message that says breaking in to steal drugs is wrong and anything that happens while you are doing that is wrong.

    So, would it be a waste if Brancato was a bad community theater actor or would it be justice served?

  2. I do not like the felony murder rule because of how much it allows the state and the jury to assume without requiring actual proof. I think the idea of felony murder and in a broader sense the entire concept of aiding and abetting has morphed into nothing more than the idea that you're guilty if you are within someone who commits a crime, regardless of your knowledge of that person's criminal intent. The state should not be allowed to assume that the driver who takes a shooter to the location of the crime had any idea a crime was going to occur. The state should have to prove it, but through theories like felony murder, we've almost totally relieved the state of its burden. In reality, I think juries put a burden on a defendant to definitively prove he was not a part of a criminal enterprise, not the other way around.

    I don't know anything about the particular facts of this case, but if Brancato did in fact participate in a burglary, knowing it was a burglary, then I don't have a problem with him being held accountable to some degree for the results of that burglary. My only limitation would be I don't think he should be held as accountable as the shooter unless the state can honestly prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the non-shooter shared that murderous intent.

    Basically, I just want the state to be held to its burden in all cases instead of being allowed to slide by on hte theory of guilt by association.

  3. The state should have to prove its case, but if they do then murder is an appropriate charge. I don't think it should be necessary to know that Armento was armed, if he knew (or should have reasonably known) they were there to commit a crime.

  4. I don't think so, Bob. Two loser drug addicts who break and enter to steal some pills is not a serious crime. It's petty, it's nickel and dime stuff. This one happened to go very badly.

    What Sarah said is interesting: "...unless the state can honestly prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the non-shooter shared that murderous intent." My point is, in this fiasco there was no murderous intent on anyone's part. These guys wanted to get wasted on drugs, that's all.

  5. Mike,

    Sorry, but you are way off base on calling someone breaking into a house a petty crime. Stealing someone's prescription drugs is a very serious crime.

    I'm an asthmatic, if someone steals my prescriptions I CAN DIE. Sorry if I take that a little more serious then "petty".

    Also, even if they aren't stealing drugs, they are violating the sanctity of my home. Since, most crooks don't announce their intentions, should I just let them take what they want? Helping them to my property that I worked for?

    Bull!! That property represents time out of my life, hours I've worked, money I've struggled to earn and you are calling it a nickel and dime crime. Allowing criminals to take what I've worked for is allowing them to make me their slave.

    They have no right to my property, no right by their actions to force me to work for their gain.

    While you may be comfortable with the idea they had no murderous intention, the events certainly prove that wrong.
    Remember Frankel's saying "Between stimulus and response is the freedom to choice"?

    When confronted Armento chose a murderous intent, he pulled a gun and shot another person. Hardly the behavior of someone just wanting to get wasted.

    Brancato also chose his intention, to harm another person by stealing property. All actions that follow from that are partly his responsibility.

    If someone is breaking into my house, should I wait around to find out if they want to rape my wife or daughter before I confront them? If they don't and just want to steal my property, am I to let them because it's a nickel and dime crime?

  6. Two loser drug addicts who break and enter to steal some pills is not a serious crime.

    if two people ever break into my home, i'll make sure to find out whether they're losers or addicted to drugs before asking them which of my store brands of tylenol they'd prefer to steal.

    just kidding. i'll show them the business end of a pump-action shotgun and give them a fair chance to run away. if they take advantage of it, i'll refrain from blowing them away.

    see, there's no way i can know with any acceptable certainty whether any given housebreaker is just committing a petty crime or a more serious one, at least until the whole thing is over and it's too late to do anything at all about it, so i'm not going to risk it.

    if they run away at the first sight of a shotgun, then it won't have been a serious crime at all, and all's well that ends without a serious crime being committed; if i give them the benefit of the doubt and they turn out not to have deserved it, it's my life on the line.


    that said, i don't like the "murder by accessory" rule any more than S does, and pretty much for the same reasons. just being present when someone you shouldn't have trusted as a friend commits a crime doesn't mean you either knew about it, or could have reasonably done anything about it.

    people should be convicted --- or not --- for what they either do, or willfully fail to prevent when they had reasonable opportunity to prevent it --- not just for something somebody else did while they were in view.

  7. also, while i'm all set up to complain about sentencing rules: "using a firearm in the commission of a crime" should not be taken to include "there was a thirty-eight lying forgotten in the trunk of the getaway car". or, as was at issue in one appealed trial a while ago, "he was trading away his gun for some drugs".

    those might very well be separate crimes of possessing weapons while being a prohibited person (prior criminal record), but prosecute them that way then, don't say those were "using a gun while committing a crime".

  8. When a group of people work together to commit a crime, they will likely share in the proceeds. If they had managed to escape capture because one of the criminals shot his way to safety, the other would have also been free. If they share in the benefits, they should share in the penalty.

  9. Mike,

    Just found this on another site, but I think it fits in with this post and our general conversation:

    Ethics from the Barrel of a Gun:
    What Bearing Weapons Teaches About the Good Life

    One quote out of an entire post worthy of reading and re-reading"
    ...It is not always so, of course. There is a 3% or so of psychotics, drug addicts, and criminal deviants who are incapable of the dignity of free men. Arms in the hands of such as these do not promote virtue, but are merely instruments of tragedy and destruction. But so, too, are cars. And kitchen knives. And bricks. The ethically incompetent readily (and effectively) find other means to destroy and terrorize when denied arms. And when civilian arms are banned, they more readily find helpless victims...

    Please mind the date this was written, June of 2006. I'm not the first to compare firearms to cars.

  10. Bob, To me, murderous intent is the terrorist or mafia hit man who takes someone out with a sniper rifle. A home invader who carries a gun may be intending to kill anyone who gets in his way, but I think that's rare. He's really intending to get in and out undetected. Don't you think?

    Sevesteen, Thanks for that angle on it. "If they share in the benefits, they should share in the penalty." That's definitely worth pondering, but I think the jury needs to consider if one of them is a hapless sidekick just along for the ride or if he's more or less a full partner in the crime.

    Bob, Now I get it. Thomas was talking about this 3%. "There is a 3% or so of psychotics, drug addicts, and criminal deviants who are incapable of the dignity of free men." That was a JOKE everybody.

  11. "He's really intending to get in and out undetected. Don't you think?"

    If he really didn't think that he wouldn't have brought the gun...or simply left the doors to the house wide open. Confrontation just RUN!

    Of course this boils further down to the problem with our legal system. It should be more of a serious crime to break and enter with a weapon than without one, and criminals should know and fear this. They don't, because the punishment exists...but only in theory, not in practice.

  12. Mike,

    So only terrorists or a mafia hit man has murderous intent?

    How about the stalker out to kill the woman that he can't have?

    Or the gang banger that does a drive by on a rival gang over some trivial issue of disrepect?

    Or the road rager willing to run someone off the road because of a percieved slight?

    Those aren't examples of murderous intent because, why?

    Also, if someone is breaking into my I need to stop and ask their intent? What if they just want to beat me up, rape my wife/daughter, steal my drugs....should I try to fight off with bare hands because they don't have murderous intent?

    What would you do if you awoke in the middle of the night to find stranger(s) in your house?
    That was a question I confronted before I got married. As a single man, I was willing to fight or let them take stuff. Now as a husband and father, I can't afford that luxury. I am forced to recognize that I'm middle aged, asthmatic, out of I will use the tools that can most effectively defend my family and home...a firearm. I'm at a loss to understand anyone who does not make a similar decision to defend their family. I'm not saying that you wouldn't defend your family, but some anti-gun folks have made that statement.

  13. I don't comprehend the worldivew that says we have to restrict the law abiding because of criminals, but we should be gentle and compassionate with criminals.

    Breaking into people's houses should be dangerous. Doing it with a gun should increase the penalty, regardless of which of you has the gun. If you don't like it, don't break into people's houses.

  14. Bob, I didn't say only terrorists and mafia hit men qualify. You named a few more. But, I do say just because a burglar has a gun in his pocket, there isn't necessarily murderous intent there. And although I agree that carrying a firearm to a burglary should increase the culpability, I think it should be the jury's job to assess the intentions of each participant.

  15. "I don't comprehend the worldivew that says we have to restrict the law abiding because of criminals, but we should be gentle and compassionate with criminals."

    I'd say that's my #1 head-scratcher with Mike (#2 being his anti-gun talks, but little interest to talk laws or solutions...with exception to the "Gunshow Loophole" that he is already seeing the web of lies that are woven to support it)

    Also notice how he didn't feel a need to address it.