Los Angeles Times

Retrial for Bay Area men in Italy slaying


ROME — Italy’s highest court has ordered a retrial for two California men 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, 23, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 22, who were convicted in the stabbing death of the 35year-old caribinier­e during a plaincloth­es operation in Rome, where the two Americans were on vacation, in the summer of 2019.

The court will divulge the reasons for its decision in the coming weeks and instruct an appeals court on which issues should be examined 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 the Bay Area, were sentenced to life in prison, Italy’s toughest penalty, in the initial trial in 2021. An appeals court upheld the verdict but reduced the sentence to 24 years for Elder and 22 years for NataleHjor­th.

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 contended that he thought he was being strangled by the man and pulled out a knife in self-defense to break free.

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