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Italy orders retrial for Americans in officer’s murder


ROME — Italy’s top court has ordered a new trial for two US citizens convicted of murdering an Italian police officer in an undercover operation gone wrong.

The Court of Cassation on Wednesday evening threw out guilty verdicts against Finnegan Lee Elder, now 23, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 22, both convicted of the stabbing death of the 35-year-old rifleman. years during an undercover operation in July 2019 while the Americans, teenagers at the time, were on vacation in Rome.

The court will release the reasons for its verdict in the coming weeks and instruct an appeals court on the specific issues to consider in a new trial.

Elder’s attorney Roberto Capra said he was satisfied with the ruling, saying a new trial would open the possibility of a recalculation of the sentence.

β€œIt confirms a topic we raised from day one: This elder was unaware of having a law enforcement officer in front of him. The dynamics of events preclude that fact,” Capra said. to reporters, expressing hope that a new trial would lower the sentence.

The two men, friends from northern California, were sentenced to life in prison, the heaviest sentence in Italy, at the first trial. An appeals court upheld the verdict, but lowered the sentence to 24 years for Elder and 22 for Natale-Hjorth.

Rifleman Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was stabbed 11 times while he and a partner took part in an undercover operation to recover a backpack the two Americans had taken on a failed drug deal. Elder claimed he pulled out a knife in self-defense to free himself as he and the officer struggled on the ground, and the officer attempted to strangle him.

Cerciello Rega’s partner testified that they did declare themselves officers, but the defense questioned his version.

Natale-Hjorth testified that he struggled with Cerciello Rega’s partner and was unaware of the stab wounds when he ran to a hotel.

His lawyer, Fabio Alonzi, said the High Court ruling indicated a weakness in the prosecution’s case that Natale-Hjorth was an accomplice to the murder, and the retrial against him will focus on that.

Alonzi visited Natale-Hjorth in jail on Thursday. “He told me it was the first time he felt relaxed, even though he understands that the road to freedom is long,” the lawyer said.

Parents of the elders say the prospect of a new trial, even one focused on narrow issues, gives their son the first sign he can begin to envision a future beyond the daily grind of prison.

He had no hope for the future for a long time after the first sentence,” Elder’s mother, Leah Elder, told The Associated Press. “The second sentence allowed him to have some (hope), now this third court decision, I really think, will allow him to imagine what his life could be like.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.