ROME — The highest court in Italy ordered two American tourists Wednesday to face a new trial for murdering a central Rome police officer after a botched purchase of drugs. However, one of the victims was given a death sentence.
In 2021, Finnegan Lee Elder was convicted and Gabriel Christian Natalehjorth was sentenced to life terms for the stabbing death Mario Cerciello Rega. The sentence was decreased last year from 24 to 22 years for Elder and 22 to 22 for Natale-Hjorth.
The Rome-based Court of Cassation ruled that Elder was guilty of the murder. However, it ordered a fresh trial as some of the related allegations weren’t sufficiently supported.
Cerciello Rega (35), who wasn’t armed at that time, was stabbed 11 more times by Elder (19) with a 7 inch blade he brought from the United States. Police said.
Natale-Hjorth was then 18 years old and should be tried again. There wasn’t enough evidence to prove his complicity in the murder. He didn’t handle the murder weapon in the attack, but he was fighting with Andrea Varriale, a second police officer.
The court only decides if the laws were correctly applied, not the merits of a case. It also said that there wasn’t enough evidence to show the two tourists knew they had police in front them. This is something they both deny.
“From the very first moment we looked at the court papers, it became clear that Elder did not know that he was being charged with two police officers. This intervention was unusual. Renato Borzone, Elder’s lawyer said that this decision could have a significant impact on the penalty.
Two Americans from California were on vacation in Italy and tried to purchase drugs from a local dealer at a tourist hotspot in Rome. Although they claimed that they were being cheated, they managed to get a bag from an intermediary while he attempted to flee.
The two men agreed to meet again with the dealer to exchange the bag for their money, but instead they were met by the police officers in plain clothes.
Elder admitted to killing Cerciello rega. However, he and NataleHjorth claimed they acted in self defense because they believed the two officers were thugs trying to take them out.
“We are extremely satisfied with the result. Finally, someone has listened to our arguments. Fabio Alonzi, Natale-Hjorth’s lawyer, said that a new chapter in the trial has been opened.
Contributed by The Associated Press