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Italy orders new trial for Americans convicted of killing Rome policeman

Court upholds murder sentence for Finnegan Lee Elder.

Two American tourists convicted of stabbing a policeman to death in Rome in 2019 will face a new trial following a ruling on Wednesday night by Italy's highest court.


The Rome-based Court of Cassation ordered a retrial for Finnegan Lee Elder, 23, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 22, who were convicted in the killing of 35-year-old carabiniere Mario Cerciello Rega in a botched attempt to buy drugs.


Last year an appeals court had reduced the life sentence to 24 years for Elder, for stabbing plainclothes officer Cerciello Rega to death, while Natale-Hjorth had his life sentence reduced to 22 years.


On Wednesday the Court of Cassation upheld Elder's murder sentence but ordered a new trial as certain related allegations were not corroborated sufficiently, Reuters reports, and there was not enough evidence that the pair knew they were dealing with police.


The court ruled that Natale-Hjorth, who did not handle the murder weapon during the attack, should stand trial again to review whether he had been an accessory to the killing.


Elder has admitted to stabbing Cerciello Rega but both Americans insist they thought they were facing drug dealers, not police.


Background to the case


On the night of 26 July 2019 the two Californians, on holiday in Italy, met up in Rome and tried to buy cocaine in the popular night-life area of Trastevere.


A man described as an intermediary, later identified as Sergio Brugiatelli, helped them find a dealer who allegedly sold them crushed aspirin instead of drugs.


In retaliation the pair stole Brugiatelli's rucksack, demanding the return of their money plus cocaine in exchange.


However Brugiatelli informed the police of the situation, with undercover officers Mario Cerciello Rega and Andrea Varriale going to the designated meeting point in the upmarket Prati district, in place of Brugiatelli.


During the altercation Elder used an 18-cm serrated-edge combat knife to stab Cerciello Rega, who was not armed, while Natale-Hjorth wrestled with Varriale.


Cerciello Rega was stabbed 11 times, later dying from his wounds in hospital.


The next day police tracked down Elder and Natale-Hjorth to a nearby hotel where the murder weapon was found concealed behind a ceiling panel.


The killing of Cerciello Rega, who had just returned from honeymoon, shocked Italy and led to a huge outpouring of public sympathy for his widow.


Massive crowds turned out for his funeral at the same church where he had been married 43 days before.

Photo ANSA - Alessandra Tarantino

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