Two US students were on Wednesday convicted of murdering an Italian police officer during a summer trip to Europe in 2019 when both were 19. Finnegan Lee Elder, now 21, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, now 20, both from San Francisco, were found guilty of murdering Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, during a botched drug deal, the BBC reports. They were handed the maximum sentence, life in prison, the AP reports. Elder confessed to stabbing Rega 11 times but said he was acting in self-defense, not realizing Rega was a police officer. Natale-Hjorth was found guilty of helping Elder to conceal the weapon. Italian law allows accomplices to be charged with murder.
Rega's partner testified during the trial that the pair had identified themselves as Carabinieri; Elder and Natale-Hjorth say they did not. The officers were in plainclothes and were not carrying weapons, in violation of procedure. Elder and Natale-Hjorth were sold aspirin when they tried to buy cocaine, stole the bag of the middleman who arranged the deal in retaliation, then got into an altercation when that man called police to intervene. The defense team argued Elder's history of psychiatric problems led him to have a constant fear of being attacked, the Guardian reports. They said he thought the police officers were drug dealers. Elder and Natale-Hjorth can appeal. (Read more Italy stories.)