An Italian court defended the conviction and penalty imposed on two American tourists sentenced to life in prison on May 5 for the murder of a police officer.
It’s the first insight into the court’s decision, even though the sentence was previously released.
By law, after defendants had been found guilty for the murder of Carabinieri Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello-Rega, 35, and sentenced by a trial court, it is required within 90 days of the conviction to address the motive and rationale behind the penalty imposed on defendants.
Hence, Judge Marina Finiti, who presided over the trial of Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, released a 346-page document detailing the court’s position ahead of inevitable appeal by the defense, according to the Washington Post.
Both defendants have already started serving their sentences.
On July 26, 2019, the teenagers were vacationing without their families in Rome. Elder and Natale-Hjorth tried to purchase 80 euros ($96) worth of cocaine from the Trastevere nightlife district in Rome. Through an intermediary, both defendants met a drug dealer who sold them aspirin instead of cocaine. In a bid to salvage their loss, the teens took the backpack belonging to the intermediary, which had a cell phone in it.
The intermediary was a police informant and reported the matter to the authorities.Upon returning from his honeymoon, Cerciello-Rega had been assigned with officer Andrea Varriale, his partner, to the district in plain clothes for close-up investigation.
An altercation soon ensued after the officers accosted the defendants.Elder stabbed Cerciello-Rega 11 times with a military-style knife he brought from the U.S. As Cerciello-Rega bled profusely, the teens ran back to their hotel room which had been nearby the scene of the incident. Police later recovered the weapon stashed behind a ceiling panel where Natale-Hjorth hid it. The pair was immediately taken into custody.
The former San Francisco schoolmates told authorities they acted in self-defense. They claimed both officers were not in uniform and never identified themselves. They assumed the officers were thugs about to assault them.
During the trial, Elder's lawyer, Renato Borzone made a similar claim when he told the court his client had a profound psychological issue about the fear of being attacked.
Though Natale-Hjorth was not directly involved in the actual stabbing of the officer, under Italian law, an accomplice leading to the death of a victim is held liable just as the actual perpetrator of the crime.
The court disagreed and dismissed the defendant’s claim based on the years of professional experience Cerciello-Rega had on the force and the absence of any evidence of assault on Natale-Hjorth by Varriale.
"How can the court not ask itself why Vice Brigadier Cerciello-Rega, in service for more than 20 years, about whom all spoke of his professionalism, his dedication to work, his experience on the streets, his humanity, ought to have strangled Elder as the defendant contended? And if the intention of the two officers was to kill, why would Varriale not have done the same thing with Natale-Hjorth, leaving alive an inconvenient witness?" the court wrote, according to CBS.
The court concluded that though Cerciello-Rega was not alive to tell his side of the story, instead, his martyred body had spoken volumes on his behalf.
It is unclear for now when the lawyers for both defendants will be filing an appeal.