American tourists sentenced to life for killing Italian police officer

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Two Americans were convicted on Wednesday for killing an Italian police officer in 2019 — and both received a life sentence in prison.

A jury in Rome found Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, guilty of homicide, attempted extortion and other offenses in the stabbing death of Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega.

Elder stabbed Cerciello Rega 11 times after a botched drug sting, and Natale-Hjorth helped hide the murder weapon, the jury found. Under Italian law, an accomplice can also be charged with murder.

The defendants maintained they didn’t know the Carabinieri paramilitary officer was a cop, and claimed they acted in self defense.

The slain officer’s widow sobbed as the verdict was handed down. Elder’s father exclaimed, “Finnegan, I love you!”

Rega, 35, and a partner were called to investigate an extortion attempt, after the young Americans allegedly stole a cell phone from a purported street cocaine dealer — who had taken their money without supplying drugs. The then-teenagers used the phone to set up a meeting to get their money back, the court heard.

The California tourists said they thought that Cerciello Rega and his partner Andrea Varriale, who both wore plainclothes, were thugs that were attacking them on a dark street when the deadly fight ensued.

Elder testified that he feared the heavy-set victim was going to strangle him, before he stabbed him repeatedly.

The trial largely boiled down to Varriale’s word against the suspects, and was front page news in Italy, as the country mourned the killing of an officer.

With AP wires

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