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US Men Charged in Italian Officer's Death Face Life

The California men say they were acting in self-defense
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 6, 2021 10:35 AM CST

(Newser) – An Italian prosecutor wants two Americans charged in the killing of a police officer in central Rome to get life in prison—Italy’s maximum sentence, the AP reports. Prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta on Saturday asked the court to find Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, guilty in the July, 2019, stabbing death of 35-year-old Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega. Elder and Natale-Hjorth, who are from California Bay Area, were vacationing in Rome when they were confronted by two plainclothes Carabinieri officers during what the Americans thought was going to be a meeting with an intermediary from an earlier cocaine deal gone awry, per KTLA. Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale, were responding to an alleged extortion attempt by Elder and Natale-Hjorth.

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The Americans had allegedly had snatched the intermediary’s backpack and phone and set up a rendezvous to exchange it for about $100, the money they lost in the bad drug deal. Elder, who stabbed Rega in an ensuing scuffle, has claimed self-defense, saying he did not know that Rega and his partner were police officers. In a statement read during a recent court appearance, per SFGate, Elder said he thought Rega was trying to strangle him. “I instinctively brought out my knife and hit him three times in an effort to get him off me,” he said. Authorities have said that the officers identified themselves right before the attack, during which Rega was reportedly stabbed 11 times. In asking for a sentence of life in prison, Calabretta, the prosecutor, called the attack “disproportionate and deadly,” per the AP. The defense in the case will make closing arguments later this month. (Read more Italy stories.)

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