ROME (AP) — Italy’s highest court has ordered a retrial for two American citizens who were convicted in the slaying of an Italian police officer during a sting operation gone bad.
The Court of Cassation late Wednesday threw out the guilty verdicts against Finnegan Lee Elder, now 23, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 22, both convicted in the stabbing death of the 35-year-old caribiniere during a plainclothes operation while the Americans, teens at the time, were on vacation in Rome in the summer of 2019.
The court will issue its reasons for the verdict in the coming weeks, and instruct an appeals court on the issues to examine in a new trial.
Elder’s lawyer, Roberto Capra, expressed satisfaction at the decision, saying a new trial would open the possibility of recalculating the sentence.
The two men, friends from northern California, were sentenced to life in prison, Italy’s toughest penalty, in the initial trial. An appeals court upheld the verdict, but lowered the sentence to 24 years for Elder and 22 years for Natale-Hjorth.
The defense has argued that plainclothes carabinieri didn’t identify themselves as law enforcement during an operation to recover the backpack that the two Americans stole during a failed drug deal.
Carabiniere Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was stabbed 11 times. Elder claimed he pulled out a knife in self-defense to break free as the officer tried to strangle him.
Natale-Hjorth testified that he grappled with Cerciello Rega’s partner and was unaware of the stabbing when he ran back to a hotel.