Italy: Retrial ordered for killing of officer by Americans

ROME – Italy’s highest court has ordered a retrial for two American citizens convicted of the killing of an Italian police officer during a failed covert operation.

The Court of Cassation late Wednesday threw out the guilty verdicts of Finnegan Lee Elder, now 23, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 22, both convicted of the stabbing deaths of 35-year-old Caribiniere during a plainclothes operation in July 2019, according to Americans , then teenagers, were vacationing in Rome.

The court will reason the verdict in the coming weeks and will refer an appellate court to the precise issues to be considered in a new trial.

Elder’s attorney, Roberto Capra, expressed satisfaction with the decision and said a new trial would open up the possibility of a recalculation of the verdict.

“It confirms an issue we’ve addressed from day one: that Elder wasn’t aware he was dealing with a law enforcement officer. The dynamics of events preclude that fact,” Capra told reporters. He expressed hope that a retrial would leave room for a sentence reduction.

The two men, friends from Northern California, were sentenced to life imprisonment in the first trial, the harshest sentence in Italy. An appeals court upheld the sentence but reduced the sentence to 24 years for Elder and 22 years for Natale-Hjorth.

Carabiniere Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was stabbed 11 times while he and a partner were on a civilian operation to recover a backpack the two Americans had taken during a failed drug deal. Elder claimed he pulled a knife in self-defense to free himself when the officer tried to strangle him.

Cerciello Rega’s partner testified that they did in fact declare themselves as officers, but the defense has cast doubt on his version.

Natale-Hjorth testified that he had confronted Cerciello Rega’s partner and was unaware of the stabbing as he ran back to a hotel.

His lawyer, Fabio Alonzo, said the high court’s decision indicated a weakness in prosecutors’ arguments that Natale-Hjorth was an accomplice in the murder.

None of the accused attended the day-long hearing before Italy’s highest court of cassation.

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