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Rome court rules two Americans accused of stabbing Italy to death



The fate of two American students accused of killing an Italian police officer is being decided by a court in Rome this week in a case being closely monitored in Italy.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 20, both from California, were in Rome on vacation when Mario Cerciello Rega was fatally stabbed on a street in the Italian capital in July 2019.

Cerciello Rega, who was 35, had just returned to work after his honeymoon. A state funeral was held for the officer, who prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta said was killed in a “disproportionate and deadly attack”.

Calabretta has called for the accused couple, who have been in jail since the arrest, to receive life sentences. “Life imprisonment is not a trophy to be exhibited, but a just punishment … In the face of such tragic facts, no one wins and no one loses,” Calabretta said in her return to defense arguments in late April.

A jury will begin hearing the case on Wednesday, and a verdict is expected that day or Thursday.

The parents of the elderly and the father of Natale-Hjorth, who has an Italian background, are in Rome for the verdict.

On July 26, 2019, Cerciello Rega was stabbed to death 11 times and his colleague, Andrea Varriale, was wounded after officers, both in plain clothes and without their service pistols, confronted elders and Natale-Hjorth in the Prati district of Rome while investigated a bag felling. .

Elder who had traveled to Italy with an 18 cm (7 inch) combat knife in his suitcase, and Natale-Hjorth says they confused officers with criminals to get them.

Earlier in the evening, students had contacted an intermediary to buy cocaine in Trastevere, a popular nightlife area. The middleman led them to a drug dealer who instead sold them aspirin for € 80. In return, they took the middleman’s bag containing his mobile phone and fled before allegedly demanding a cash ransom and cocaine to return the bag.

The middleman called his phone and agreed to meet the couple in the Prati district. He had also contacted police to report the theft and the two officers went to the scene.

The students fled the scene and the next day were tracked down to a hotel where police found the knife used to kill Cerciello Rega.

Elders have admitted to stabbing Cerciello Rega several times, but said he and Natale-Hjorth were suddenly confronted by the men they thought were drug dealers.

Rosa Maria Esilio, widow of Mario Cerciello Rega, has a photograph of her husband.
Rosa Maria Esilio, widow of Mario Cerciello Rega, has a photograph of her husband. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino / AP

In an emotional statement to Rome’s Assise Court last September, elders apologized. “I want to apologize to everyone, Cerciello Rega’s family and his friends. To the whole world, ”he told Rome’s Assise Court. “If I could go back and change things, I would do it now, but I can not.”

Roberto Capra, a senior lawyer, said: “He apologized because he wanted to, for no other reason. But, of course, the court could assess this and consider this aspect of the sentencing. ”

In a recent hearing, the elder said: “As these men approached, they immediately attacked us as if they were going to rob or harm us without saying a word and without showing any ID or anything else. They did not even say ‘police‘, which sounds like the English word police. ”

Calabretta rejected defensive arguments that the elderly’s constant fear of attack, the result of a history of psychiatric problems, had led him to kill Cerciello Rega after confusing him and Varriale with criminals.

Varriale testified that the two officers approached the young men on the street from the front and showed their badges, though Cerciello Rega’s was never found.

Natale-Hjorth, who fought with Varriale, is also facing charges of “voluntary murder”.

Fabio Alonzi, Natale-Hjorth’s lawyer, has tried to distance his client from the elder. “My client is a stranger to anything that has to do with homicide,” he told the court.

If the jury finds the men guilty and the judge passes a life sentence, the couple will likely remain in jail while the verdict is appealed. If given a lesser sentence, they could possibly leave prison and be placed under house arrest during the appeal process.


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