I-TEAM EXCLUSIVE: Parents of SF defendant in Italian police officer's death discuss strategy with I-Team

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- What will be the defense strategy for the young man from San Francisco, arrested for the stabbing death of an Italian police officer last summer? His parents are opening up to the I-Team's Dan Noyes.

We have stayed in contact with Ethan and Leah Elder, asking for an on-camera interview. For now, they've sent written responses to some of the issues we've raised.

RELATED: I-TEAM EXCLUSIVE: Questions raised about investigation of Bay Area's Finn Elder, Gabe Natale who've been arrested in slaying of Italian Officer Mario Cerciello Rega

The I-Team's Dan Noyes was there at the airport in Rome this summer when Ethan Elder arrived from San Francisco to see his son, Finn, for the first time since his arrest in the death of Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega.

And we were there to see him leave the prison near the Vatican, offering no comments to the crowd of international media.

Upon returning home, the Elders' lawyer read a prepared statement on behalf of the family.

Craig Peters said, "We look forward to the truth coming out and our son coming home."

RELATED: I-Team's Dan Noyes gets inside hotel where Bay Area men are accused of hiding knife used to kill Italian police officer

Now, the Elders are giving us new insight into what the defense strategy will be, for the trial starting February 26.

Ethan Elder writes, "Finn was assaulted at 3 a.m. by two men who did not identify themselves nor did they speak English. They had no guns, badges or handcuffs. Finn was on his back being choked and was fighting for his life, against a man nearly 100 pounds more than him, he thought the man was trying to kill him. He panicked & fought."

Leah Elder adds, "Finn has told the same details from the moment he was arrested. During his interrogation he nearly immediately says, 'We didn't know they were cops,' and hasn't changed his story at all."
RELATED: I-Team obtains investigative report on Bay Area teens held in Italian police officer's death

Both the defense and prosecution agree that Finn Elder and his friend, Gabriel Natale, were in Rome on vacation when they went looking for cocaine. After police broke up a drug deal, the young men were caught on surveillance camera running with the backpack of a man police identify as a pusher. The pusher called police and set up a meeting with the teens to get the backpack back; it was Officer Rega and his partner who showed up.

In the struggle, Finn Elder pulled out a Marine-style combat knife and stabbed Officer Rega; the autopsy shows eleven wounds.

The Elders also told us what it was like seeing their son in that prison for the first time.

Ethan Elder writes, "After being heartbroken five days before over the loss of Officer Rega, I did not realize my heart could break again. It did. At the end of it, I was glad to see my son alive. And left realizing what had been put forth in the media was not true." Leah Elder adds, "I am destroyed, utterly destroyed at a tragedy which can't be undone for all involved that night."

Ethan Elder wants you to know his son, "Finn is a kind, intelligent and caring person. From the moment he was born, we were as close as a son and father can be." Leah adds, "Finn is empathetic, highly emotionally intelligent and sociable. He has a wide group of friends, both male and female. He loves the ocean, cars, music and sports."

We have also reached out through her lawyer to Officer Rega's widow for an interview. She has not responded. The Elders also discuss how a classmate had to go to the hospital with a brain injury, after a confrontation with Finn Elder when he was 16. The parents describe it as a "mutual agreed upon fight." Finn's assault charge was dropped after completing a year of probation without issue.

The I-Team's Dan Noyes is in Italy covering the investigation for ABC7. Follow his updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Go here for more information and updates on the killing of Mario Cerciello Rega.

Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.