Italian court reduces sentences of Americans for murdering cops

A Rome appeals court has reduced the sentences of two Americans sentenced to life for the murder of an Italian cop after a botched drug deal.

Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth were sentenced on Thursday to 24 and 22 years in prison, respectively, after a jury deliberated for three hours in the 2019 stabbing death of Vice Brigadier Carabinieri Mario Cerciello Rega near their hotel in Rome.

The San Francisco natives were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in May of homicide, attempted extortion and other counts in Rega’s murder.

Jurors found Elder stabbed Rega 11 times after a botched drug sting. Natale-Hjorth was found guilty of helping hide the combat knife, but both men insisted they acted in self-defense and were unaware Rega, 35, was a cop. Under Italian law, anyone who even indirectly participates in a murder can face murder charges.

Americans Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth were sentenced to life in Italy for killing a police officer, but an appeals court reduced the sentence.
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth,
Finnegan Lee Elder was found guilty of stabbing Vice Brigadier Carabinieri Mario Cerciello Rega, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth was found guilty of helping hide the knife.

Rega’s partner insisted they identified themselves as police officers, but Elder and Natale-Hjorth disputed that claim in their first trial.

Elder, 22, spoke in court on Thursday before deliberations began, expressing “remorse for the pain” he caused the Rega family. The officer was killed just days after returning to work from his honeymoon.

Elder claimed he believed Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale – who were dressed in civilian clothes at the time – were local gang members seeking to retaliate after a failed cocaine deal hours earlier in another party from Rome.

Prosecutors sought to uphold Elder’s life sentence, but asked that Natale-Hjorth’s sentence be reduced to 24 years because he did not stab Rega but then hid the knife used to kill him .

“Elder does not deserve forgiveness,” prosecutor Vincenzo Saveriano said in court Thursday.

The convictions of Elder and Natale-Hjorth, 21, have been upheld and their lawyers have said they plan to appeal, the New York Times reported.

“I’m bitter because Gabe is innocent,” Fabio Alonzi, one of Natale-Hjorth’s lawyers, told the newspaper.

Natale-Hjorth’s father and uncle attended Thursday’s hearing, but did not speak to reporters afterwards.

Mario Cerciello Rega
Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth insist they didn’t know Mario Cerciello Rega was a cop.
Pool/AFP via Getty Images

One of Elder’s lawyers, Roberto Capra, said the reduced life sentence means the young American could see his time behind bars further reduced with good behavior. But he still plans to appeal, as the Italian courts allow a two-step procedure.

“It’s not about how much time is served, it’s about finding out the truth about what happened that night,” Capra told The Times. “We will fight until the end until the truth comes out.”

Elder’s parents previously said they fear their son, who has previously attempted suicide, will survive life in prison – the harshest possible criminal sentence in Italy.

Mario Cerciello Rega
Mario Cerciello Rega was killed days after returning from his honeymoon.

“He was completely devastated by the verdict, just devastated,” Leah Elder said in May. “It was totally unexpected for him. He feels like he’s been given something worse than the death penalty.

Elder and Natale-Hjorth were classmates at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. If their sentences are still confirmed, the two will likely be in their 40s when released, the newspaper reported.

With post wires

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