US men await their fate as murder trial nears end in Rome

ROME (AP) — The pandemic was simply bearing down on Italy when the trial started of two younger American men, charged with the murder of Italian police officer close to their resort whereas they have been on trip in 2019.

On Wednesday, after greater than 14 months, protection legal professionals will wrap up their arguments, and the 2 defendants, former schoolmates from California, can count on to study their fates later in the week.

Finnegan Lee Elder, now 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, now 20, insisted they acted in self-defense. They say they thought they have been being attacked by a pair of thugs or mafiosi when Carabiniere Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega and fellow officer Andrea Varriale approached them in the wee hours of July 26, 2019.

The officers, in plainclothes, had been dispatched to observe up on a report of a small-scale extortion try, allegedly devised by the Americans in reprisal for a botched drug deal just a few hours earlier, when the younger men have been out in Trastevere, a nightlife district in Rome.

The case has largely come all the way down to the testimony of Varriale, who insisted the officers recognized themselves as police, towards that of the younger men, who in response to their personal accounts, had spent the night ingesting beers and pictures and attempting in useless to purchase cocaine. Neither officer introduced his service pistol to the rendezvous.

Prosecutors alleged that Elder thrust a 7-inch (18-centimeter) military-style assault knife repeatedly into Cerciello Rega, who bled profusely and died shortly afterwards in hospital.

Elder advised the court docket that the heavy-set Cerciello Rega was scuffling on high of him and he feared the officer was attempting to strangle him, so he pulled out the knife and stabbed him. When the officer didn’t instantly let him go, he stabbed once more.

Under Italian regulation, alleged accomplices may also be charged with murder even when prosecutors admit they’d no materials function in the precise slaying. The prosecutor in her ultimate arguments requested the court docket to convict each defendants and sentence them to life imprisonment, Italy’s harshest legal penalty.

Judge Marina Finiti has indicated verdicts would possible be delivered on Wednesday or Thursday.

Shortly after trial started on Feb. 26, 2020, Italy, the primary nation in the West hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, went right into a extreme lockdown. Several of the hearings have been held with out the general public and even journalists. At instances, Elder and Natale-Hjorth adopted proceedings by way of a video hyperlink from jail.

The defendants advised the court docket that after some sightseeing, they determined to go to Trastevere, a Rome neighborhood standard amongst younger folks.

At one level in the night, the defendants testified, they sought to purchase cocaine. After being put into contact by a go-between with a supplier, they paid 80 euros ($96) however as an alternative of cocaine they obtained an aspirin-like pill. Before Natale-Hjorth, who speaks Italian, might confront the supplier, a separate Carabinieri patrol intervened and people on the scene scattered.

Cerciello Rega, carrying a T-shirt and lengthy shorts, and Varriale, additionally dressed casually on the nice and cozy night time in a polo shirt and denims, have been assigned to reply in plainclothes to what prosecutors contended was an extortion scheme devised by Natale-Hjorth.

When the cocaine transaction was botched, the Americans snatched the go-between’s knapsack in reprisal. Inside was the person’s mobile phone, and Natale-Hjorth testified that he spoke with the person by telephone, organising a rendezvous to trade the bag and telephone in trade for the money they misplaced in the drug deal.

The defendants have insisted they anticipated the go-between to indicate up outdoors their resort. Instead two men — the plainclothes officers — appeared with out the go-between, they stated. It was the go-between who had phoned police to report his bag stolen.

Both defendants are additionally charged with tried extortion.

While Cerciello Rega wrestled with Elder, Natale-Hjorth scuffled with Varriale, who suffered a again harm. After the stabbing, the Americans ran to their resort room, the place, in response to Natale-Hjorth, Elder cleaned the knife and requested him to cover it. Natale-Hjorth testified that he hid the knife behind a ceiling panel in their room, the place it was found hours later by police.

The Americans are additionally charged with assault for inflicting Varriale’s harm, carrying an attack-type knife outdoors house with out simply trigger and resisting a public official.

During pre-trial investigation, Elder advised his legal professionals to take a look at video footage from a financial institution close to the stabbing, nevertheless it turned out no video surveillance digicam was working that night time.

Italian newspapers revealed a photograph of Natale-Hjorth blindfolded and along with his fingers cuffed behind his again throughout questioning at a Rome Carabinieri station, in violation of Italian regulation defending suspects’ dignity. Among these in the questioning room was Varriale, who stated he used his telephone to movie the incident however didn’t transmit the video. The blindfold incident was put underneath a separate investigation.

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