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A Rome court sentenced two American students to life in prison for the murder of Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega.

The court deliberated for 13 hours before convicting Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 2020. Cerciello Rega returned to duty after his honeymoon before the two convicts stabbed him to death in July 2019. The victim died in the “disproportionate and deadly attack”.

Natale-Hjorth met up with Elder whilst visiting his Italian relatives near Rome. During the attack on 26 July, Cerciello Rega faced 11 stab wounds after confronting the suspects whilst investigating a bag snatch.

Earlier that night, the students bought “cocaine”, which was in fact aspirin, so stole the middleman’s bag. According to Elder, he mistook the officers for criminals and allegedly acted in self-defence. The two Americans claimed that the police never showed their badges. However, the victim’s partner, Andrea Varrial, testified to say they identified themselves – although Cerciello Rega’s badge remains missing.

The students stabbed the officer with a seven-inch military-style knife, which they later hid in a ceiling panel at their hotel.

During a court appearance, Elder told his lawyer “I’m stressed” before kissing his chained crucifix. Elder’s father shouted, “I love you” as officers took him away. The former officer’s widow cried when the verdict was read.

By Derry Salter

Cardiff University Journalism and Communications student. Intern for MMN.

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