Rome officer killing: Family member's collapse delays trial for Bay Area men, held in Italy for police officer's death

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A dramatic day in the Rome trial of two college students from the Bay Area, charged with the stabbing death of Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega nearly one year ago.

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The two defendants attended Tam High in Mill Valley, went to college for a year in Southern California, and met in Rome on vacation last summer. They've been in prison ever since

19-year-old Gabrial Natale Hjorth from Mill Valley entered the Rome courtroom Wednesday; masks are mandatory. He listened as Carabinieri officer Andrea Varriale described their fight, how Natale had his shoulders pinned to the ground, so the officer let him go.

Varriale testified he turned to see his partner, Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, standing with blood pouring "like a fountain", saying "they stabbed me" and collapsing to the ground.

20-year-old Finnegan Elder of San Francisco admitted stabbing the officer, but claimed it was in self-defense and that he didn't know the men were police. His attorneys insist he not be photographed during the trial.

WATCH: '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 in the documentary "32 Seconds: A Deadly Night in Rome."



Investigators say the young men stole a backpack after a drug deal went bad, and they agreed to return it in exchange for 80 Euros and a gram of cocaine. The backpack owner called police, and officers Varriale and Cerciello Rega went to the meeting after three in the morning unarmed and in street clothes.

Wednesday, when the court played a recording of Varriale's phone call for help, Cerciello Rega's father-in-law collapsed.

The family attorney told reporters, "Varriale gave a detailed account of what happened, but then there was this accident for the dad of the widow and therefore everything was adjourned."

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Court is scheduled to pick up Thursday.

Also Wednesday, the Italian wire service ANSA cites a psychological evaluation submitted to the court last week that found Finnegan Elder has "a borderline-antisocial personality disorder of medium-high seriousness", a history of substance abuse and possible ptsd, but concluded that did not compromise his "free capability to make decisions at the time of the criminal act."

Fresh flowers mark the spot where Cerciello Rega died, the anniversary is ten days away. A series of posters went up on the officer's birthday this week, this one saying, "I send you a kiss with the wind and know you will feel it. Your wife."

Elder's defense team tells the I-Team that the leak of that psych report "truly appalling" and says there are many other key findings, not published by ANSA. Hearings are scheduled in this case, now through January.
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