Italian jury convicts two Americans of murder over killing of Roman police officer

Italian jury convicts two Americans of murder over killing of Roman police officer
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An Italian jury convicted two Americans of murder on Wednesday, sentencing them to life in prison two years after they were charged with killing an Italian police officer while vacationing in Rome.

After a full day of deliberation, the jury sentenced Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, to Italy's harshest sentence, The Washington Post reported.

The Post noted that the case garnered attention in Italy, where tourists are very rarely charged with violent crimes.

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Elder and Natale-Hjorth, high school friends, allegedly went out to look for drugs in Rome on July 25, 2019, the Post reported. After paying 80 euros to a middleman, they discovered they were given over-the-counter pain medication.

To get back at the middleman, they took his backpack and ran away.

The middleman called the phone in the backpack, and he and the two Americans agreed to meet up and return the money and backpack. However, police officer Cerciello Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale, arrived at the exchange instead, responding to a reported theft. They were plainclothes officers and unarmed.

According to Italian prosecutors, the officers identified themselves, but the Americans allegedly displayed "homicidal intent." Elder has said that the two officers did not identify themselves and that Rega was trying to “strangle or choke me.” Varriale said that both he and Rega showed their police badges.

Rega was stabbed 11 times during the encounter and later bled to death on the street. Elder reportedly carried a seven-inch combat knife the entire time he was traveling in Europe, the Post reported.

Elder admitted to stabbing Rega, saying he believed he was being attacked by a drug dealer. Natale-Hjorth was also charged with homicide for his involvement in the incident.

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Rega, 35, was a newlywed at the time of his death. He was honored with a state funeral.

Elder's family said it sent him to Europe in the hope he would mature after experiencing a drug problem in high school.

“I’ll never be able to forgive myself for this, and I don’t expect Mr. Mario Cerciello’s family to ever forgive me, although I truly hope one day they will,” Elder told the court soon after the trial began.

The Post noted that the verdict is likely to be appealed.