A jury in Italy found two California students guilty of murder Wednesday, almost two years after the tourists fatally stabbed a police officer in Rome following a botched late-night drug deal in the summer of 2019, ending a long and high-profile trial.
Bay Area natives Finnegan Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, were both sentenced to life in prison — the strictest sentence available under Italian criminal law — for murder and a slew of other charges Wednesday, multiple news outlets reported.
Elder was accused of repeatedly stabbing officer Mario Cerciello Rega during a vacation to Rome in 2019, and Natale-Hjorth was accused of hiding the knife (in Italy, accomplices can be charged with murder even if they weren’t directly involved).
Prosecutors reportedly said the California tourists encountered police after a failed attempt to buy cocaine. A drug dealer allegedly sold Elder and Natale-Hjorth a fake product, causing them to steal a backpack belonging to the dealer’s acquaintance and demand payment in exchange for its return. Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale, ostensibly confronted Elder and Natale-Hjorth later that night about the backpack, causing them to react violently.
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Elder will appeal the conviction and life sentence, his lawyer told Italian broadcaster RAI.
The stabbing and subsequent trial garnered intense media coverage in Italy, and politicians reacted dramatically to Rega’s killing. Matteo Salvini — a controversial far-right lawmaker famous for opposing refugees — tweeted in 2019 that the perpetrators should “pay dearly,” and he reportedly called for them to be sentenced to hard labor.