Two young American travelers will spend the rest of their lives behind bars in Italy after being convicted of murdering a plain-clothes police officer on May 5.
A jury in Rome found Californians Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, guilty of the stabbing Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega to death.
Rega, 35, and paramilitary officer Andrea Varriale had investigated an extortion plot involving Elder and Natale-Hjorth who allegedly paid for cocaine and never received the drugs back in 2019.
The pair were teenagers at the time, and thought it was a good idea to take a cellphone from a suspected street drug dealer, try to meet with his superiors, and recover the money by themselves.
However, the poorly lit street allegedly resulted in the pair mistaking Rega and Varriale for thugs who they thought were sent to strangle them to death.
This ended in a fight during which Elder fatally stabbed Rega a total of 11 times. Natale-Hjorth then allegedly helped Elder conceal the murder weapon, according to the New York Post.
The pair tried to defend their actions as self-defense and a case of mistaken identity. They claimed they had no idea Rega was a vice brigadier and Varriale a paramilitary officer.
However, the jury still found the pair guilty and the judge sentenced them to life in jail for manslaughter, attempted extortion, and other crimes committed during the small-time cocaine deal that went fatally wrong. According to the paper, the verdict came despite the trial being mostly based on the word of Varriale against the two defendants.
When the verdict was announced, the widow of the slain officer sobbed and Elder’s father shouted, “Finnegan, I love you!”
The trial made headlines across Italy as the ‘Bel Paese’ country mourned Rega’s death.