John DeSanto was working behind the register at Venus Video Thursday night when a customer ran in and blurted, "There's a man bleeding!"

DeSanto instantly spotted a bruised and battered middle-aged man stumbling through the parking lot outside the Southwest Philadelphia adult-video store.

"He had two big gashes in the back of his head, black eyes and blood all over his body," DeSanto said. "We got him inside and called the police."

When investigators arrived, they learned that the severely beaten victim was prominent local attorney Gino Benedetti.

Benedetti, 45, was put on life support when he first arrived at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Family members said he was breathing on his own last night and had slightly improved after surgeons installed a plate in his head.

"He's talking a little, but he's talking out of his head," said Dolores Louden, Benedetti's mother-in-law. "He's in so much pain. He's a good man. All we're doing here is praying."

Benedetti is not coherent enough for detectives to interview him fully.

Thus far, investigators believe that Benedetti was attacked at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, after he parked his 2004 Acura next to the video store, on Passyunk Avenue near 63rd Street, said Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives.

Benedetti's wallet and cell phone were in his car, and a brick that might have been used in the attack was found nearby.

Walker said Benedetti's beating mirrored an attack that occurred Wednesday night outside the Purple Orchid, a strip club on 61st Street and Passyunk Avenue.

In that incident, a 64-year-old man told police that he had been robbed of an unknown amount of cash by two men and struck in the back of the head with a brick wrapped in a blue towel. The unidentified victim was treated at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Delaware County, and released.

Investigators were going to review surveillance footage from the Purple Orchid last night to see if the assailants had been captured on tape, Walker said.

It's still unclear what Benedetti, a Media resident, was doing in Southwest Philadelphia at the time of the attack.

Walker said initial reports that Benedetti was first carjacked in Center City are unfounded.

"There's nothing to indicate anything happened in Center City," Walker said. "From looking at where the car is parked and where the blood is, we believe everything happened here."

DeSanto, of Venus Video, said Benedetti wasn't a customer at the store, which offers peep shows and adult videos.

"He was never in this building before," DeSanto said. "I've never seen him. All I know is that I felt really sorry for him. It was so sad to see a person with blood all over him."

Benedetti is the chief of labor and employment at Dilworth Paxson, and has been a partner there for about a year. The firm represents the Daily News and Inquirer in legal matters.

"He's a fine young man, very respected, and we think very highly of him," said a Dilworth Paxson employee who asked to not be identified. "Everyone here is upset.

"We all work in the city and commute, and to find a co-worker injured, it's traumatic," she said. "We feel bad for him and his family."

Benedetti's wife, Theresa, was at his bedside all day yesterday, said his sister-in-law Dee Burke. The Benedettis have two sons, 10 and 17, and a daughter, 14.

"Obviously, it's scary for them to see their dad like that," Burke said. "He's very confused right now, but we know he will get through this."

Colleen Colarik, a neighbor, called Benedetti "a wonderful husband and father, one of the nicest people. It's a complete shock to me that something like that would happen to him."

A number of Benedetti's cases have made headlines over the years.

In 2002, he represented a Cheerleaders dancer who seductively danced on top of an Upper Darby Township fire truck - and put several firefighters in hot water - after a Rolling Stones concert.

He also represented SEPTA in 1999 when the transit agency was sued by the family of a 4-year-old boy who lost his foot in a subway escalator accident. *