Two U.S. tourists were sentenced to life in prison for killing a police officer while vacationing in Italy in 2019.
Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, were teenagers when they allegedly attempted to purchase cocaine off the street in a deal that went south. When the drug dealer ripped off the teens, they purportedly stole his cellphone and attempted to leverage it to get their money back.
The young Californians set up a meeting to reclaim their cash, but the dealer called the Carabinieri police to evade their extortion attempt. Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, and his partner Andrea Varriale showed up to the meet in plain clothes.
The Americans believed that the officers were street thugs that were sent to attack them and a fight the claimed Cerciello Rega’s life ensued. Elder stabbed Cerciello Rega 11 times and Natale-Hjorth helped hide the knife he used.
During their trial, which ultimately came down to Varriale’s account versus the suspects, Elder gave testimony that he feared Cerciello Rega was going to strangle him before he stabbed him repeatedly.
Prior to sentencing, Elder apologized to the Italian court. “I took a man’s life, I took a husband away from his wife, I broke a bond between brothers and I took a son away from his mother,” he said. “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.”
A Roman jury found both suspects guilty of homicide. Natale-Hjorth’s act of attempting to conceal the murder weapon made him eligible to be charged equally according to Italian law.