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The family attorney for one of two California men convicted in the death of an Italian police officer blasted the guilty verdicts as lacking “both reason and compassion” and a “sad day for justice.”
On Wednesday, a jury found Finnegan Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, both guilty of several charges – including homicide, assault, resisting a public official, attempted extortion and carrying an attack-style knife without just cause – in the July 2019 stabbing death of Carabiniere Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega. The pair were promptly sentenced to life in prison after the late-night verdict.
Craig Peters, attorney for the Elder family, laid the blame on the police, saying they failed to follow protocol, resulting in Rega’s death.
Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, right, talks to his co-defendant Finnegan Lee Elder, before a jury began deliberating their fate as they are on trial for the slaying of an Italian plainclothes police officer on a street near the hotel where they were staying while on vacation in Rome. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
“It [verdict] lays all the blame with two young boys, while holding blameless the Carabiniere who failed to follow basic police procedures which, had they been followed, would have Cerciello Rega with us today,” he told Fox News in a statement Thursday. “I look forward to having an appellate court, with experienced, rational judges objectively review the facts to determine a just outcome.”
One of Elder’s lawyers, Renato Borzone, called the verdicts “a disgrace for Italy,” The Associated Press reported.
Elder and Hjorth, both from the San Francisco area, were vacationing in Italy when they were arrested. The ordeal began hours earlier when they tried purchasing cocaine from a dealer using a go-between. After paying nearly $100, they realized they given a crushed Aspirin-like tablet instead.
As reprisal, they took the go-between’s backpack and demanded their money back. They agreed to meet later outside the hotel where the pair were staying to make the exchange. Instead, the go-between called the police to report the stolen bag.
Finnegan Lee Elder listens to the verdict in the trial for the slaying of an Italian plainclothes police officer on a street near the hotel where he and his co-defendant Gabriel Natale-Hjorth were staying while on vacation in Rome in the summer of 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
As the pair were outside, Rega and his partner, officer Andrea Varriale, showed up in plainclothes to investigate the attempted extortion report. Authorities said they announced themselves as cops, which Finnegan and Hjorth deny. Prosecutors said Elder stabbed Rega 11 times with a combat knife.
Elder said Rega was on top of him during a scuffle and pulled out the knife to avoid being killed. Both defendants claimed they acted in self-defense. They said they thought Rega and Varriale were attackers or thugs.
Peters contends that Varriale’s versions of events should not be trusted.
“This verdict makes a mockery of justice by believing an incoherent story professed by an admitted liar, and then compensating that liar with an award… while subjecting these boys to a sentence that is reserved for unredeemable, career criminals that commit premeditated killings,” he said.
In this Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 file photo, Rosa Maria Esilio, widow of Italian Carabinieri paramilitary police officer Mario Cerciello Rega, holds a photograph of her husband. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, Pool)
“The message sent by these judges is clear. Those in a position of power, the Carabiniere and the prosecutors, can lie and mislead and they will not be held responsible,” he added.
At the time of the slaying, Elder was traveling through Europe in an attempt to make a fresh start after years of battle with depression. Hjorth was in Italy visiting family when the pair decided to meet up.
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