Bay Area defendant in killing of Italian police officer apologizes

ROME (KGO) -- A stunning and unexpected development in the trial of two Bay Area college students, held in the killing of an Italian police officer. One of the defendants apologized in a Rome courtroom Wednesday to the victim's family.

The judge ordered the cameras to be turned off, but the I-Team's Dan Noyes obtained an audio recording of the apology. Finn Elder's defense team want to make it clear, it was not a confession to the murder charge he faces.

RELATED: Step-by-step account of what happened in death of Italian officer allegedly by Bay Area's Finnegan Elder and Gabe Natale

20-year-old Finnegan Elder from San Francisco and 19-year-old Gabriel Natale from Marin County had their hands cuffed together as they entered the courtroom in Rome Wednesday, facing murder charges in the death of Italian Carabinieri Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega.

Elder dropped his mask for a moment and then in tears, he read a statement that he wrote in his prison cell, "That night was the worst night of my life because I took a man's life."

AUDIO: Listen to Elder read his statement below
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20-year-old Finnegan Elder of San Francisco read a statement in a Rome courtroom on Wednesday, apologizing to the family of Italian policeman Mario Cerciello Rega.

After three in the morning of July 26, 2019, Elder and Natale were meeting to return a backpack they had stolen, after a drug deal went bad. They've said they thought two men who approached were thugs working for a drug dealer, but they were actually Italian police officers in plain clothes. Elder admits stabbing Cerciello Rega to death, but claims it was self-defense.

Wednesday, he said, "I wish I could go back in time to change things and avoid this terrible tragedy but I can't. All I can say is that I'm filled with remorse and it pains me to think of all the suffering I've caused. I am truly sorry and deeply saddened for the loss of Mr. Mario Cerciello, for his family and friends."

Cerciello Rega's widow sat in the front row holding her husband's photo, as she does at each hearing, and courtroom observers say she showed no reaction.

His lawyer said Elder wanted to make the statement sooner, but could only now because he's in "a stronger psychological state."

Attorney Renato Borzone added, "Just to be clear, Elder did not make admissions to that night's dynamics, he simply wanted to communicate to the family his pain about what happened, because there was the loss of a human life."

RELATED: Bay Area suspects come face-to-face with widow, brother during trial

Finn Elder told the court, "Many mistakes were made that night and mine were the biggest of them all."

Also Wednesday, investigators testified that only Elder's and Cerciello Rega's DNA were found on the knife used in the killing, but that Gabriel Natale's left hand print was on a ceiling panel in their hotel room where the knife was hidden after the incident.

Elder's defense team tells me there has been no decision whether he will testify in the case. You can hear his entire statement from court here.

VIDEO: '32 Seconds: A Deadly Night in Rome'
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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."

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