ROME (Reuters) – An Italian prosecutor on Saturday demanded life sentences for two young Americans being tried on murder charges after a policeman was killed following a failed drug sale in Rome.
Finnegan Lee Elder, then 19, admitted to stabbing Mario Cerciello Rega in the early hours of July 26, 2019, while his friend Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, then 18, was wrestling with another police officer.
Under Italian law, anyone who participates even indirectly in murder can face charges of murder.
Prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta said in her four-hour indictment that the attack on police was “disproportionate” and carried out with “the purpose of murder”.
The two Americans, both from California, said they had no idea that Cerciello or his partner, Andrea Varriale, were police officers, telling the court that neither of the men had identified themselves.
Varriale denied this, testifying that they had shown their badges to their two attackers. The Cerciello badge was not found at the crime scene.
Elder and Natale-Hjorth were on vacation in Rome at the time and were trying to buy medicine from a local dealer. They had told the court they were duped, but managed to snatch the bag from the middleman when he tried to run away.
They then agree to meet with the dealer again to get their money back in exchange for a bag, but the two cops show up. There were no men in uniform and the Elder had testified that they immediately attacked them, forcing him and Natale-Hjorth to defend themselves.
“I panicked and believed he wanted to kill me,” Italian media quoted Elder in court earlier this month as saying.
Police said Cerciello, 35, was unarmed at the time and stabbed 11 times by Elder with an 18 cm (7 inch) knife.
Italian media reported that the dealer was an informant who reported the theft of the bag, asking the police to step in.
In a court hearing last September, Elder apologized for the murder.
Natale-Hjorth initially told police he was not involved in the murder and did not know his friend had a knife. However, his fingerprints were found on a panel on the ceiling of the hotel room where the knife was hidden.
Attorneys for Elder and Natale-Hjorth have not yet filed their defense. A verdict at the trial is expected in April, legal sources said.
Additional reporting by Domenico Lusi and Giselda Vagnoni; Edited by Catherine Evans and Helen Popper