US men convicted of killing Italian police ordered retrial

US men convicted of killing Italian police ordered retrial

ROME (AP) – Italy’s highest court has ordered a retrial for two U.S. citizens convicted of killing an Italian carabinieri during a sting operation.

Late on Wednesday the Court of Cassation threw out guilty verdicts against Finnegan Lee Elder, now 23, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 22, who both pleaded guilty to stabbing the 35-year-old officer to death during a plainclothes operation. The Americans, teenagers at the time , was on vacation in Rome in the summer of 2019.

The court will issue its reasons for the ruling next week, and will direct an appeals court to examine it in a new trial.

Elder’s lawyer, Roberto Capra, expressed satisfaction with the decision, saying a new trial would open up the possibility of a recalculation of the sentence.

The two men, friends from Northern California, were sentenced in the initial trial to life imprisonment, Italy’s toughest penalty. An appeals court upheld the verdict but reduced the sentence to 24 years for the elder and 22 years for Natale-Horth.

The defense argued that plainclothes Carabinieri did not identify themselves as law enforcement during an operation to recover backpacks that the two Americans had stolen during a botched drug deal.

Carabiniere Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was stabbed 11 times. The veteran claimed he pulled out a knife in self-defense as the officer tried to choke him.

Natale-Hjorth testified that he had jumped with Cerciello Rega’s partner and was unaware of the stabbing when he returned to the hotel.

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