Italy judge: Bay Area teen claims he knifed officer in self-defense
ROME — One of two American teenagers jailed in Rome for allegedly slaying a police officer said he stabbed the plainclothes officer because he feared he was being strangled, according to a judge's ruling obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.
Carabinieri paramilitary police Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega was stabbed 11 times and collapsed, bleeding profusely, on a street near the teens' hotel on Friday, after he and a fellow plainclothes officer confronted the Americans as part of an investigation into a cocaine deal the two were allegedly involved in. He died shortly afterward at a hospital.
Judge Chiara Gallo wrote in her ruling upholding the jailing of the two San Francisco Bay Area residents that 19-year-old Finnegan Lee Elder of San Francisco told authorities he stabbed Cerciello Rega after he felt pressure on his neck.
But, the judge noted, Elder didn't have any marks on his neck indicating an attempted strangulation.
Gallo said the young man's friend and travel companion, 18-year-old Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth of Mill Valley, told investigators he wasn't aware of the stabbing until Elder woke him up at their hotel hours later and told them he had "used a knife" and then washed it.
Investigators said Saturday both teens had admitted their roles in Cerciello Rega's death. Under Italian law, anyone who participated in a slaying can face murder charges.
In her ruling, issued Saturday, the judge wrote that Elder admitted during interrogation by prosecutors that he stabbed the officer "several times" with a knife described as a military-style attack model with a 7-inch-long (18-centimeter) blade. She said Elder told investigators he didn't realize the two men were police officers and believed they were men sent by an Italian man whose knapsack they had stolen a few hours earlier.
That man, identified as Sergio Brugiatelli, told investigators that two youths with American accents approached him in Rome's Trastevere nightlife district asking if he had 80 euros ($90) worth of cocaine to sell, according to the judge's order. Brugiatelli said he didn't, but accompanied one of the teens, a blond he later identified as Natale-Hjorth, to a dealer in the neighborhood. Brugiatelli said the other teen, whom he later identified as Elder, sat waiting on a bench where Brugiatelli had left his bag with a cellphone
According to Brugiatelli, the "blond youth" gave the dealer money for the drugs, but at the sight of approaching police officers, everyone scattered. He later told investigators that when he returned to the bench a friend told him that Elder had run off with his bag.
Brugiatelli said he dialed his cellphone number and one of the teens answered and demanded he bring 80 or 100 euros plus a gram of cocaine to a street near their hotel if he wanted the bag back. After police were informed of the extortion attempt, Cerciello Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale, were sent to the rendezvous point, the judge's order said.
The judge noted that the teens claimed the officers didn't show identification. But, she said, Varriale told investigators both officers showed their badges and identified themselves as police. "But the pair, even before we could carry out any kind of check attacked us physically," she quoted Varriale as telling investigators.
Varriale told investigators that Cerciello Rega yelled as he was struggling with Elder, "Stop, we're Carabinieri. Enough." He said Natale-Hjorth kicked, scratched and punched him to break away, then both teens fled. As he watched them run Varriale said he saw his partner was bleeding profusely from his left side, near the chest. "Before falling to the ground, he told me, 'They stabbed me,'" the judge quoted Varriale as saying.