An appeals court in Rome reduced the sentences of two Americans serving life for murdering an Italian cop after a botched drug deal.
Finnegan Lee Elder, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, were sentenced Thursday to 24 and 22 years in prison, respectively after a jury deliberated for three hours in the 2019 stabbing death of Carabinieri Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega near their Rome hotel.
The San Francisco natives were sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty in May of homicide, attempted extortion and other counts in Rega’s slaying.
Jurors found Elder stabbed Rega 11 times after a botched drug sting. Natale-Hjorth was convicted of helping hide the combat knife, but both men insisted they acted in self-defense and didn’t know Rega, 35, was a cop. Under Italian law, anyone who participates even indirectly in a murder can face murder charges.
Rega’s partner insisted they identified themselves as police, but Elder and Natale-Hjorth disputed that claim during their first trial.
Elder, 22, spoke in court Thursday prior to the start of deliberations, expressing “remorse for the pain” he caused to Rega’s family. The officer was killed just days after returning to work from his honeymoon.
Elder has claimed he believed Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale — who were dressed in plainclothes at the time — were local gang members seeking to retaliate after a botched cocaine deal hours earlier in another part of Rome.
Prosecutors sought to maintain Elder’s life sentence, but asked for Natale-Hjorth’s punishment to be slashed to 24 years since he didn’t stab Rega but later hid the knife used to kill him.
“Elder doesn’t deserve forgiveness,” prosecutor Vincenzo Saveriano said in court Thursday.
The convictions of both Elder, and Natale-Hjorth, 21, were upheld, and their attorneys said they plan to appeal, the New York Times reported.
“I am bitter because Gabe is innocent,” Fabio Alonzi, one of Natale-Hjorth’s attorneys, told the newspaper.
Natale-Hjorth’s father and uncle attended Thursday’s hearing, but didn’t address reporters afterward.
One of Elder’s attorneys, Roberto Capra, said the reduced life sentence means the young American may see his time behind bars further reduced with good behavior. But he still plans to appeal, as Italian courts allow a two-tiered process.
“It’s not a question of how much time is served, but of getting to the truth of what happened that night,” Capra told the Times. “We will fight to the end until the truth comes out.”
Elder’s parents had previously said they feared their son, who has a history of attempting suicide, would not survive life in prison – Italy’s harshest possible criminal sentence.
“He was utterly devastated by the verdict, just devastated,” Leah Elder said in May. “It was totally unexpected for him. He feels like he has been sentenced to something worse than the death penalty.”
Elder and Natale-Hjorth were former high school classmates at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. If their sentences are further upheld, both will likely be in the 40s when they’re released, the newspaper reported.
With Post wires