Armento, 51, was convicted in October of first-degree murder while committing a felony and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Brancato's defense is that he never knew Armento had a gun. He makes this claim even though the murder weapon, introduced as evidence last week, appeared to have the size and velocity of a small cannon. He also insists that he never broke into anyone's home.

"He didn't commit burglary. He didn't commit murder," Joseph Tacopina, Brancato's lawyer, told the jury last week. Instructing the eight men and eight women on the panel as though they were in a high school physics class, Tacopina told them: "Just follow the bouncing ball on the evidence in this case. It will all come together. Trust me."

Tacopina is as nice-looking as his actor-client and has been on television even more than Brancato. But he has had some trouble with the trust part. In one of those great Giuliani coincidences, he also represented Kerik for a while. That ended badly when the lawyer told the feds that he had given prosecutors what turned out to be inaccurate information at his client's behest. Tacopina may now be a witness against Kerik if the federal charges go to trial.

That is another indication of how tangled and messy the world of Rudy Giuliani has become. The ex-mayor's presidential bid didn't do as well as he had wished, but his supporters now hope he runs for governor. If so, his problems as a casting director may become an issue.

No one faults Giuliani for including Brancato in the cast of his skit since the actor's brainless and abominable crime occurred almost five years later. But you still have to wonder how it is that this top lawman comes to be surrounded by so many dumb crooks, enough of them to light up the scoreboard at one of his own CompStat sessions. For someone who boasts of having smashed the Mafia as a prosecutor, and of having reduced city crime to nothing as mayor, Giuliani seems to have a strange proclivity for those with a criminal bent. It is almost as strong as his penchant for donning tights and makeup in front of large audiences.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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