An Italian court sentenced two US tourists for stabbing a Carabinieri officer to death during a failed drug purchase during their Roman vacation. One of them admitted the act but supported self-defense. Both received life sentences.
Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 20, were found guilty and convicted on Wednesday for the 2019 murder of Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega. Judge Marina Finiti read the verdict in a packed court, siding with prosecutors who asked for life sentences for both men.
The two St. Franciscans were in Italy for several reasons – Natale-Hjorth said he was visiting his Italian grandparents and Elder was traveling to Europe – when they met in Rome in July 2019. They tried to buy cocaine in the nightlife district. from Trastevere, but grabbed the trader’s backpack when he sold them the pills.
They tried to make an appointment to exchange the backpack with the lost money, but instead the two Carabinieri showed up. According to the Italian media, the trafficker was a police informant and reported an attempted extortion.
In March, testifying before the court, the elder said the two men were in civilian clothes and had not identified themselves as policemen. He also claimed that the two immediately attacked them.
“I panicked and thought he wanted to kill me,The elder told the court.
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Cerciello Rega, 35, who according to the police was not armed, was stabbed 11 times with an 11 cm blade by Elder. The officer had recently returned from his honeymoon.
Cerciello Rega’s companion, officer Andrea Varriale, testified that the two Carabinieri had shown their badges. The deceased officer’s badge was not found at the crime scene.
While Elder admitted to the stabbing and apologized for it at a court hearing in September 2020, Natale-Hjorth initially told police he was not involved and did not know his friend had a knife. However, his fingerprints were found on a ceiling panel in their hotel room, where the hidden murder weapon was found.
The elder and Natale-Hjorth were charged with murder, attempted extortion, assault, resisting arrest and carrying an “attack-style” knife. Their trial has fascinated Italy since it started in February 2020.
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It is not the first time that a young American has faced Italian justice. Amanda Knox, an exchange student from Washington state, was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for allegedly killing her roommate Meredith Kercher.
Unlike Elder and Natale-Hjorth, however, Knox retained his innocence. She and her fiancé Raffaele Sollecito were acquitted in a retrial in 2011 and were acquitted of all charges by the 2015 verdict of the Italian Supreme Court. A thief whose bloodstained footprints were found on Kercher’s assets was eventually convicted of the murder.
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