Fri, 18 Jun 2021

ROME, Italy: Two young Americans have been sentenced to life in prison for the 2019 slaying of an Italian policeman.

Found guilty of murder were Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, former schoolmates from the San Francisco-area.

Prosecutors said Elder stabbed to death Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega 11 times while attempting to buy drugs on July 26, 2019.

Later, Natale-Hjorth helped Elder hide the knife used in the stabbing in their hotel room. Under Italian law, Natale-Hjorth is an accomplice and was charged with murder without materially performing the slaying.

The killing of officer Cerciello Rega, 35, shocked Italy and he was mourned as a national hero.

The widow of the murdered officer held a photo of her dead husband while waiting for the jury's verdict.

"His integrity was defended," Rosa Maria Esilio said outside the courtroom, between sobs. "He was everyone's son, everyone's Carabiniere. He was a marvelous husband, he was a marvelous man, a servant of the state who deserves respect and honor."

One of Elder's lawyers, Renato Borzone, called the verdicts "a disgrace for Italy."

Officer Cerciello Rega had just been married when he and his partner were assigned to follow up on a reported extortion attempt. They were attacked as they were arresting the Americans, who sought to purchase cocaine.

Franco Coppi, a lawyer representing some of Cerciello Rega's family, said the jury's decision reflected the "gravity of the deed, an atrocious crime."

Under Italian law, the jury must explain its decisions within 90 days, which can be used as the basis for an appeal.

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