Two American tourists could face life in an Italian prison over fatal stabbing of police officer in Rome

·2-min read
Finnegan Lee Elder, right, points the sky after showing a crucifix to co-defendant Gabriel Natale-Hjorth before a jury began deliberating their fate (AP)
Finnegan Lee Elder, right, points the sky after showing a crucifix to co-defendant Gabriel Natale-Hjorth before a jury began deliberating their fate (AP)

Two Americans charged with killing a police officer during a summer vacation in Rome will soon learn if they will spend the rest of their lives in an Italian prison.

A jury is expected to decide on Wednesday or Thursday whether Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, are guilty of murder in the stabbing death of Mario Cerciello Rega in 2019.

Mr Cerciello Rega, from the country’s respected Carabinieri police corps, was mourned as a national hero as the trial of the two Americans captured the nation’s attention since beginning in February 2020.

The Vice Brigadier had recently returned from a honeymoon when he was stabbed 11 times while responding to reports of an extortion attempt.

The two Californians, who were teenagers when they were visiting Rome in July 2019, are charged with homicide, attempted extortion, assault, resisting a police officer and carrying an attack-style knife without just cause.

They maintain they acted in self-defence.

Before a brief court appearance on Wednesday, Mr Elder told one of his lawyers "I’m stressed" before kissing the crucifix hanging around his neck. He was joined in the court by his parents, while co-accused, Mr Natale-Hjorth, was joined by his Italian uncle.

During the trial, the court heard that Mr Natale-Hjorth was visiting his Italian grandparents near Rome while Mr Elder was travelling through Europe. The former San Francisco school friends had met up in Rome at the time of the alleged murder on 26 July.

The pair told the court they thought Mr Cerciello Rega and his partner, who were not wearing uniforms, were mobsters attempting to assault them. Mr Elder said he feared for his life.

Earlier in the night, the two teenagers tried to buy cocaine in the city’s Trastevere nightlife district, the court heard. But when they received an aspirin-like tablet instead, they grabbed their contact’s backpack and attempted to use it to exchange for the money lost in the cocaine deal.

Prosecutors allege that Mr Elder repeatedly stabbed Mr Cerciello Rega with a seven-inch military-style knife, and then the two returned to their hotel where Mr Natale-Hjorth hid the weapon behind a ceiling panel in the room.

The two Americans said the police never showed their badges, while Mr Cerciello Rega’s partner, Andrea Varrial, testified that they did identify themselves as Carabinieri.

Under Italian law, an accomplice in a murder case can also be charged with murder, and prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta is seeking life imprisonment for both defendants.

Judge Marina Finiti said the jury verdict would be delivered later Wednesday or Thursday.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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