The trial of the man suspected of killing an off-duty police officer in 2005 began explosively today as police railed against the defense's claims that the officer's own actions led to his death, and that officers testifying will lie on the stand.
Presided over by Judge Martin Marcus, the trial commenced today at the Bronx Criminal Court. Steven Armento, 51, faces seven separate counts ranging from second degree murder to burglary in the shooting of New York City Police Department officer David Enchautegui of the 40th Precinct, then 28. On December 10th, 2005, Enchautegui was shot trying apprehend Armento and friend, Lillo Brancato Jr., an actor in "The Sopranos", 29, after they broke into his neighbor's house.
Bronx Assistant District Attorney Terry Gottlieb, said Enchautegui, "did what we hope every police officer does: He goes out, he gets involved." She claimed that Enchautegui, who called 911 for back-up, asked the fleeing men to stop, though whether or not he identified himself as a police officer remains a key point in the defense's arguments.
For both sides, much hinges on what happened next that night: Gottlieb claimed that even after being shot, Enchautegui continued to attempt to bring down his assailants, shooting Armento six times and Lillo twice. Before the jury of two men and ten women, William Flack, the lawyer representing the accused, contested this order of events. Enchautegui, he said, "fired all his rounds first. Then and only then," did Armento fire. Flack claims this is a case of self-defense rather than willful murder.
Called to the stand were the 40th Precinct sargent who identified Enchautegui's body, 911 operator Beverly McBride, who answered Enchautegui's December 10th call and Yolanda Rosa, the deceased's sister. Rosa entered crying and clinging to Gottlieb's arm as more than 40 officers gathered outside as a show of solidarity applauded her. Speaking to the jury, Flack said, "There is a member of the New York City Police Department that will come put his hand on the bible and lie to you," provoking gasps from many of the over two dozen police officers in attendance.
Questioned later, Flack refused to identify whom he meant, but many of the officers present suspect Flack was referring to the officer who took Armento's statement the night of the shooting. The statement has been called in to question previously because it is disputed as to whether Armento -- who had been drinking and taking drugs that evening -- was fully lucid. Speaking outside the courthouse later,
Gottlieb called Flack's defense, "desperate."
Flack's claims that Enchautegui's "reactions caused his death" provoked outrage from Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the labor union representing police officers. Lynch began the morning rallying officers, some of whom were turned away from the packed courtroom. In a raised voice after the trial, Lynch accused Flack of "pissing on the grave of a New York City hero," and said Armento, "deserves a defense, but they're not entitled to make a fiction into fact."
Flack also argued that Enchautegui may have been mistakenly shot by officers late on the scene. He pointed to the 911 tape played at the trial, where Enchautegui described his dark clothing to prevent a mix-up. Post-trial Flack referred to a January 29th, 2006 shooting in which officers at a Bronx White Castle restaurant shot one of their own.
Officers from the 40th Precinct who clustered in the hall wearing Enchautegui t-shirts referred to him as a "brother", and pledged to have members of the NYPD present at every day of the expected month-long trial.
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