I-TEAM: New evidence, new questions in case of Bay Area teens, held in death of Italian police officer

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- An Italian police officer died from 11 stab wounds in 32 seconds; that's the stunning finding from an investigative report involving two Bay Area teens, being held in a Rome prison.

The prosecution just handed over 2-thousand pages of evidence to the defense teams. Two graduates of Tam High School in Mill Valley are being held in the death of the officer, and that man's partner is reportedly changing his account of what happened.

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Family members visited both teens at the prison in central Rome today. A spokesman told me that Leah Elder traveled to the city "under the radar" to see 19-year-old Finn Elder for the first time, since he was arrested and accused of stabbing to death Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega.

And 18-year-old Gabe Natale's uncle and grandparents visited him. He's being held as a possible accessory to murder.

Italian prosecutors say the teens were looking to buy cocaine in the early morning of July 26th, and when undercover officers intervened, they took what police call a "pusher's backpack" to the Meridian Hotel where they were staying. When that so-called pusher called his phone still in the backpack, the boys answered and allegedly demanded 100 Euro and a gram of cocaine for its return.

You can hear the backpack owner calling police for help retrieving his property.

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Undercover officers Andrea Varriale and Mario Cerciello Rega responded and confronted the teens who said after, they didn't know the men were police officers.

Prosecutors say Finn Elder admitted stabbing Rega with a Marine-style knife, and Gabe Natale fought off Varriale and ran away.

At a news conference in July, the police commander said Varriale couldn't fire his weapon at the suspects running away because it would violate policy and that he was busy helping his mortally wounded colleague.

But now, Italian media is reporting, Varriale has changed his account, admitting both he and Rega did not have their service weapons, their handcuffs or their police identification, and that they were wearing Bermuda shorts and t-shirts at the time.

Finn Elder's attorney in Rome tells ABC News, those admissions bolster both teens' statements that they didn't know the officers were, in fact, police and that they call into question the credibility of the case's main witness.

Elder Family Attorney Craig Peters said at a news conference outside their San Francisco home last month, "The public has an incomplete account of the true versions of events. It is said however the truth will set you free.">

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Late today, new images from surveillance video published by the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Serra show Elder and Natale the hour before meeting the officers, looking down the street and crouching behind a car near their hotel.

Those pictures are part of the investigative report, handed over to the defense this week. Leah Elder sent me a text today after seeing her son, saying Finn "is painfully depressed" and that "it has been difficult to hear the facts so unfairly misrepresented."

For a look at more stories and videos by Dan Noyes and the ABC7 News I-Team.
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