A jury in Rome, Italy convicted two American friends in the 2019 slaying in Rome of a police officer in a tragic unraveling of a small-time drug deal gone bad, sentencing them to the maximum life in prison, reports USA Today. Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, former schoolmates from the San Francisco area, were each found guilty of murder and four other counts and received Italy’s stiffest punishment, life imprisonment. Prosecutors alleged Elder stabbed Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega 11 times with a knife that he brought with him on his trip to Europe and that Natale-Hjorth helped him hide the knife in their hotel room. Under Italian law, an accomplice in an alleged murder can also be charged with murder without materially doing the slaying.
During the trial, which began on Feb. 26, 2020, the Americans told the court they thought that Cerciello Rega and Varriale were thugs or mobsters who had showed up, and not the go-between for a deal the two had struck to purchase cocaine. The plainclothes officers wore casual summer clothes, and the defendants insisted the officers never showed police badges, a fact that was confirmed by Rega’s partner. Elder told the court that the heavy-set Cerciello Rega, scuffling with him, was on top of him on the ground, and he feared that he was being strangled. Elder said he pulled out the knife and stabbed him to avoid being killed, and when the officer didn’t immediately let him go, he stabbed again. Elder’s lawyer, Borzone, argued that his client had deep-set psychiatric problems, including a constant fear of being attacked. The jury must lay out in detail its reasoning for its decisions within 90 days. The rationale would then form the basis for any appeal.