Gabriel Natale-Hjorth and finnegan lee elder university, american students italy

American visitors sentenced to life in prison for the assassination of an Italian police officer.

Two Americans were convicted on Wednesday of the 2019 murder of an Italian police officer — and one was sentenced to life in prison.

In the stabbing death of Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, a jury in Rome found Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, guilty of murder, attempted extortion, and other offenses.

Elder stabbed Rega 11 times after a botched drug sting, the jury found, and Natale-Hjorth assisted in concealing the murder knife. An accomplice may also be charged with murder in Italy.

On April 29, 2021, in Rome, Gabriel Natale-Hjorth (left) and co-defendant Finnegan Lee Elder sit during a break in their trial.
On April 29, 2021, in Rome, Gabriel Natale-Hjorth (left) and co-defendant Finnegan Lee Elder sit during a break in their trial.

The defendants said they were unaware that the Carabinieri paramilitary officer was a cop and acted in self-defense.

The widow of the slain officer sobbed as the verdict was read. Elder's father screamed, "I adore you, Finnegan!"

Rega, 35, and a girlfriend were summoned to investigate an extortion attempt after the young Americans reportedly stole a cellphone from a suspected street cocaine dealer — who took their money without supplying drugs. The court heard that the then-teenagers used the phone to arrange a meeting to recover their money.

On May 5, 2021, Finnegan Lee Elder listens as the verdict is read.
On May 5, 2021, Finnegan Lee Elder listens as the verdict is read.

According to the California visitors, they believed Rega and his companion, Andrea Varriale, were thugs attacking them on a dark street when the deadly battle ensued.

Elder testified that he believed the obese victim might strangle him before repeatedly stabbing him.

The courtroom, which was largely a battle of Varriale's word against the suspects', made front-page news in Italy, which was mourning the death of an officer.

A jury in Rome on Wednesday convicted two American friends in the 2019 slaying of a police officer in a tragic unraveling of a small time drug deal gone bad, sentencing them to life in prison.