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Americans given life sentences for murder of police officer in Rome

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Finnegan Elder, left, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, fourth from left, hear the verdict in their murder trial
Finnegan Elder, left, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, fourth from left, hear the verdict in their murder trial   -   Copyright  Gregorio Borgia/AP
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Two Americans have been jailed for life in Italy for the 2019 murder of a police officer.

Finnegan Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, were both handed Italy’s harshest prison sentence after being found guilty by a jury on all charges for the killing of Carabinieri Mario Cerciello Rega in Rome.

Prosecutors said Elder stabbed Rega 11 times with a knife he had brought with him on his trip to Europe from California.

Natale-Hjorth was accused of helping him to hide the knife in their hotel room afterwards.

Under Italian law, an accomplice in an alleged murder can also be charged with murder even without materially doing the killing.

Rega's widow, Rosa Maria Esilio, who held a photo of her dead husband while waiting for the verdict, broke down in tears and hugged his brother, Paolo.

Following the verdict she described her husband as "a wonderful man" and said he deserved "only respect and honour".

"His integrity was defended and proved, even if the victim was the aim of many insinuations," she said, fighting back the tears.

"It will not bring him back to life and will not give us back our life together," she added.

Reported extortion attempt

Rega had recently returned from a honeymoon when, on July 26 2019, he was assigned along with a plainclothes police partner, officer Andrea Varriale, to follow up on a reported extortion attempt.

Prosecutors said the young Americans concocted a plot involving a stolen bag and cellphone after their failed attempt to buy cocaine with €80 in Rome's Trastevere nightlife district.

Natale-Hjorth and Elder testified they had paid for the cocaine but didn't receive it.

The pair, from San Francisco in California, claimed the two police officers had not identified themselves as police, and that they were acting in self defence.

Andrea Varriale denied this version of events. "We appeared before them (...) as carabinieri", he told the court during the trial.