Rome court defends murder convictions of Bay Area classmates for murder of police officer – CBS San Francisco


ROME (CBS / AP) – Italian court defends its conviction of two young Bay Area tourists for the 2019 murder of an unarmed Italian undercover policeman on a street in Rome, dismissing self-defense arguments as patently implausible .

Lawyers for the defendants on Tuesday received copies of written reasons for convictions and life sentences handed down by the Rome court on May 5 for Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, of San Francisco, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, of Mill Valley.

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Italian courts are required, within 90 days of a verdict, to formally detail in writing the reasons for deciding the verdicts and sanctions, their justification being the basis for any appeals by the defense or prosecutors.

FILE – In this April 29, 2021 file photo, Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, left, and his co-defendant Finnegan Lee Elder, both from the United States, wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 as ‘They sit during a break from a hearing of their trial in Rome. A jury will soon assess the fate of the two young American men accused of killing an Italian policeman while on vacation in 2019 (Remo Casilli / Pool Photo via AP)

Lawyers for the defendants were studying the document and did not immediately comment on the prospects for the appeal.

In a 346-page document signed Monday by trial presiding judge Marina Finiti, the court rejected defense arguments that the defendants did not know they were being approached by police near their hotel in the early hours of the 26th. July 2019. He rejected it. the victim, the assistant rifleman Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, who had just returned from his honeymoon, or his partner in civilian clothes did not identify themselves as police officers.

Cerciello Rega was stabbed 11 times by Elder and his partner, Officer Andrea Varriale, sustained minor injuries in a fight with Natale-Hjorth before the Americans returned to their hotel.

The defendants were convicted of manslaughter, attempted extortion, resisting a public official and carrying an attack-type knife without just cause.

In Italy, an accomplice in an alleged murder can also be charged with murder without having materially committed the murder. Both defendants have started serving life sentences, Italy’s harshest sentence.

Elder said Cerciello Rega attacked him without cause and was trying to strangle him. So he took out a knife he was carrying for his own protection and stabbed the policeman several times to get free.

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“How can the court not ask why Vice-Brigadier Cerciello, in service for over 20 years, all of whom spoke of his professionalism, his dedication to work, his experience in the streets, his humanity, should have strangled Elder as the accused argued? The court wrote.

The court was scathing in its dismissal of the main arguments of the defense, adding: “And if the intention of the two officers was to kill, why wouldn’t Varriale have done the same with Natale, leaving a witness alive?” embarrassing ?

The officers were following an extortion attempt allegedly concocted by the Americans after an offer to buy cocaine in Rome’s nightlife district of Trastevere that occurred hours before the knife attack.

The defendants said they paid 80 euros ($ 96) for the drug but did not receive it. In retaliation, the Americans ripped off a backpack belonging to the botched deal intermediary and demanded money and cocaine in return for the return of the bag and the cell phone it contained.

Both Americans testified that they believed Cerciello Rega and Varriale were thugs or thugs who showed up at the agreed meeting place instead of the middleman and acted in self-defense.

Varriale testified that both officers went to the rendezvous without their service weapons and both showed their police badges and told the Americans they were officers.

“In the end, the only protection (unarmed officers) available at the moment was precisely this badge,” the court wrote, noting that Cerciello Rega’s bloodstained wallet was later found.

“Vice Brigadier Cerciello cannot offer his version, but his martyr body speaks for him and attests to Elder’s murderous fury,” the court wrote.

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