Retrial starts for 2 Bay Area men convicted in fatal stabbing of Italian police officer

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Saturday, March 9, 2024
Retrial for 2 Bay Area men convicted in killing of Italian officer
Bay Area natives Finn Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth appeared in court for a retrial over the fatal stabbing of an Italian police officer.

ROME, Italy (KGO) -- A new trial began Friday for former Marin high school classmates who were convicted in the death of a plainclothes police officer in Rome, July 2019.

They got the new trial over the issue of language. Finnegan Elder said from the start that he didn't know the two men who jumped him were police, and he couldn't understand Italian. The highest court agreed and sent it back to the Court of Appeal in Rome today.

San Francisco's Finnegan Elder and Marin County's Gabriel Natale-Hjorth are being kept in separate prisons near Rome. As the Court of Appeal hearing began Friday, Elder seemed to try to catch Natale's eye, but he stared straight ahead.

The two were on vacation in July 2019, when Natale-Hjorth tried to buy cocaine, but police broke up the deal. As they ran away, Elder grabbed one of the dealer's backpacks that contained a cell phone. The dealer called and set a meeting with the Americans to retrieve his bag. But, two police in plainclothes arrived; the dealer was a police informant.

RELATED: California college students accused of killing police officer - '32 Seconds: A Deadly Night in Rome'

ABC7 I-Team's Dan Noyes reveals what led up to that night in July 2019 when an Italian police officer was killed. Find out in the ABC7 Original, "32 Seconds: A Deadly Night in Rome."

HEIDI HJORTH February 2020: "They thought they were meeting the drug pusher and so when they saw two, they probably thought it was two friends of the drug pusher or drug dealer."

DAN NOYES: "The boys didn't know that those were police officers?"


Finnegan Elder told investigators from the beginning that he didn't know the men were police officers, and he didn't speak Italian, so he wouldn't understand the term "Carabinieri", the name of the Italian national police.

RELATED: Italy's highest court granted retrial for Bay Area men in killing of Italian police officer

ETHAN ELDER February 2020: "At 3 a.m. he was jumped from behind, thrown to the ground by a man who was 100 pounds heavier than him."

LEAH ELDER: "He was being strangled."

ETHAN ELDER: "He was choking him and pinning him down. Finnegan thought he was in mortal danger."

DAN NOYES: "He feared for his life."

ETHAN ELDER: "He feared for his life. And he was not letting up."

Court records show Elder stabbed Mario Cerciello-Rega with this military-style assault knife 11 times and ran back to the hotel. Natale-Hjorth was able to break free from the second officer. Lower courts convicted the two Americans in the killing, and now the Court of Appeals is reconsidering the case, taking into account the issue of language.

Elder's mother, Leah, message the I-Team Friday: "Jail is a difficult place, but the emerging truth about facts is helping Finn as he said from the beginning the truth."

The officer's widow watched the court proceedings, and her lawyer spoke after. In Italian, Franco Coppi said, "We have said it from the first moment -- there are no vindictive instincts or the desire to punish at all costs, but that justice be done."

The next hearing is a month away, then another in May.

He was stabbed to death.

There was ultimately no decision made in court Friday.

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