Two Americans Sentenced to Life in Italian Prison for Murdering Cop as Teens

Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, left, and Finnegan Elder, right, appear in court before the sentencing.Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, left, and Finnegan Elder, right, appear in court before the sentencing.
Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, left, and Finnegan Elder, right, appear in court before the sentencing.(Getty)

High school friends Finnegan Elder, now 21, and Gabriel Natale Hjorth, now 20, were traveling through Europe in July 2019 when a drug deal gone wrong led to a plainclothes officer's killing.

Two American men have been sentenced to live in an Italian prison after being found guilty of murdering an Italian military police officer. Finnegan Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale Hjorth, 20, both originally from San Francisco, California, were just teenagers at the time of the drug deal gone wrong.

Widow Rosa Maria Esilio, who was newly married to Deputy Brig. Mario Cerciello Rega before he was brutally slain on the streets of the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome, said following the conviction, “This has been a very long painful trial. It will never give me back Mario, it will not bring him back to life. It will not give back our life together,” the New York Times reported.

The high school friends Elder and Natale Hiorth had been on a European vacation in July 2019 when they had intended to buy cocaine in a tourism district. Instead, they had been tricked out of 80 euros in exchange for an aspirin-like pill, they said.

They ended up stealing the man’s backpack, and coordinated to meet again through the phone he left in the bag. Instead, Cercielo Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale, two unarmed officers in plainclothes, arrived, responding to the reported theft, according to the Washington Post.

A scuffle between the teens and the officers broke out, and Elder ended up stabbing Cercielo Rega 11 times with a 7-inch blade he had been carrying with him in his travels throughout Europe, the prosecution said, according to Reuters.

27-year-old Varriale had wrestled with Natale Hjorth and suffered a back injury, according to the prosecution.

Elder and Natale Hjorth then returned to the hotel room, and the pair hid the knife, CBS News reported, adding that while Natale Hjorth claimed he had nothing to do with the murder, an accomplice can also be charged with murder in Italy.

The teens claimed they acted in self-defense and the officers did not present identification, while Varriale said they had identified themselves as carabinieri, or military police.

After an 11-hour deliberation by a jury, they were both found guilty of homicide, attempted extortion, assault, resisting a public official and carrying an attack-style knife without just cause.

Shortly before the verdict, Elder’s uncle Sean Elder told the Washington Post that the summer vacation was intended to be a “maturing experience.”

“His mother had gone to Rome in her early 20s and worked as an au pair,” he said. “She thought the same would be true for him, that being in a new environment and having to figure some things out on his own would be maturing for him.”

Related Stories