ROME—Italy’s highest court late on Wednesday ordered two American tourists to stand a new trial for the 2019 killing of a policeman in central Rome following a botched attempt to buy drugs, but upheld a murder sentence for one of them.
Last year an appeals court had convicted Finnegan Lee Elder, who was 19 at the time, to 24 years in jail for stabbing Mario Cerciello Rega to death in Rome, while his friend, Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, then 18, was handed a 22-year term.
The Rome-based Court of Cassation said Elder was guilty of murder, but ordered a new trial because some related allegations were not sufficiently corroborated.
Cerciello Rega, 35, was not armed at the time and was stabbed 11 times by Elder with an 18-cm (7-inch) blade that he had brought with him from the United States, police said.
The court said Natale-Hjorth should stand trial again because there was not enough evidence of his complicity in the killing. He did not handle the murder weapon during the attack but was tussling with the second police officer, Andrea Varriale.
The Court, which only rules on whether the laws have been correctly applied and not on the merits of a case, said there was not enough evidence the two tourists were aware they had police in front of them, something they both deny.
“From the first minute we examined the court papers, we realised that Elder had absolutely no idea that he was facing two police officials. That intervention was anomalous. This decision could have a great influence on the penalty,” said Elder’s lawyer Renato Borzone.
The two Americans, who both come from California, were in Italy on holiday and tried to buy drugs from a local dealer in a Rome tourist hotspot. They have said they were cheated, but managed to grab a bag off an intermediary as he tried to escape.
They subsequently agreed to meet the dealer again to get their money back in exchange for the bag, but instead the two policemen showed up in plain clothes.
Elder has admitted killing Cerciello Rega, but both he and Natale-Hjorth said they had acted in self-defense because they thought the two policemen were thugs out to get them.
“We are very satisfied with the outcome. We finally have someone who has heard our reasons. Now a new page in the trial is opened,” said Natale-Hjorth’s lawyer Fabio Alonzi.
By Marco Carta