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American Teens Who Face Life in Italy Go on Trial

Gabriel Natale-Hjorth and Finnegan Elder accused of murdering a cop
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2020 12:13 PM CST

(Newser) – Two American teens were arrested in Italy over the summer for allegedly killing a Rome police officer in the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. On Wednesday, their trial in the Italian capital began, ABC News reports. Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 19, and Finnegan Elder, now 20, face charges of aggravated murder and attempted extortion in the July 26 death of Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, a member of the country's Carabinieri paramilitary police force. Authorities say the American teens were sold crushed aspirin when they tried to buy cocaine and that they then took a backpack from the "mediator" who had arranged their meeting with the drug dealer. They allegedly demanded their money back before they would return the pack, not knowing the mediator had called the police. Cerciello Rega and a partner responded and a fight ensued; Cerciello Rega died at a nearby hospital after receiving 11 stab wounds that pierced major organs. More on the case:

  • Evidence: Natale-Hjorth and Elder were allegedly caught on surveillance video fleeing the scene and were ultimately arrested in a hotel room nearby. Police say the 7-inch combat knife used in the slaying was found behind a false panel in the room's ceiling, and that the teens confessed to the murder after being "faced with overwhelming evidence" during several hours of interrogation.
  • Controversial photo: However, a photo of Natale-Hjorth handcuffed and blindfolded caused some to wonder whether their confessions had come under duress. Italian authorities said the photo was taken before the interrogation, which took place lawfully and in the presence of defense lawyers and interpreters.

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