An Italian court on Wednesday sentenced two young Americans to life imprisonment for the murder of a police officer in July 2019 when they were on vacation in Rome.

Officer Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was killed by one of them while he was detaining the young men, then 19 years old, Finnegal Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, together with a colleague.

While Judge Marina Finiti read the sentence after the trial, which lasted one year, the policeman’s widow, Rosa Maria Esilo, was sobbing audibly and hugging her brother-in-law, a journalist from the AFP in the Tribunal.

“It was a long and painful trial, it will not bring Mario back,” the widow said through tears.

Lee Elder, who acknowledged having stabbed Cerciello Rega 11 times, stated that he and Natale-Hjorth had been attacked by men who they thought were drug traffickers.

According to elements collected during the investigation, the Americans had seized the purse of the intermediary of a trafficker who had sold them aspirin posing as cocaine and demanded 100 euros ($ 120) to return it.

Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, one of the accused for the murder of the policeman in Rome

Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, one of the accused for the murder of the policeman in Rome.

But the latter, a police informant, warned the forces of order and the policemen arrived in civilian clothes at the place of the meeting in which they would carry out the exchange.

The defendants, originally from San Francisco, California, claimed that the two civilian-clad and unarmed officials did not identify themselves as such.

The murdered policeman’s colleague, Andrea Varriale, denied it. “We appeared before them saying that we were policemen”, stated.

The murder weapon an 18 cm combat knife, was found shortly after the events – which occurred near the Vatican – hidden in the room of the four-star hotel where the young people were staying.

“It was an aggression, a violent, deadly and disproportionate attack”, the prosecutor in the case, Maria Sabina Calabretta, had defended.

The prosecutor described Cerciello as “a good man” and stated that “he could not have done much to defend himself”, since the sole objective of the defendants was “to kill him.”

His colleague Nunzia D’Elia stated that the carabinero was stabbed 11 times in less than thirty seconds and that there is no evidence that he attacked the assailant.

Another of those accused of the murder of Mario Cerciello Rega

Another of those accused of the murder of Mario Cerciello Rega.

Despite the fact that Mario Cerciello was stabbed by Finnegan Lee Elder, Gabriel Natale-Hjorth was tried alongside him because, under Italian law, anyone who indirectly participates in a murder can be charged with manslaughter.

Occurring in the summer of 2019, this murder caused a strong commotion in Italy and a wave of empathy for the young policeman, who had just returned from his honeymoon.

The defense claimed that there were contradictory statements and flaws in the investigation. “This verdict is a shame for Italy, with these judges refusing to see what emerged during the trial,” criticized Finnegan Lee Elder’s attorney, Renato Borzone.

The case also sparked controversy after the dissemination of photos of Gabriel Natale-Hjorth in which he is seen blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back in a police station after being arrested.

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