ROME — An Italian prosecutor on Saturday asked that two San Francisco men on trial in the 2019 killing of a military police officer in Rome receive the maximum sentence of life in prison.
Wrapping up a nearly four-hour summation in a stuffy Rome courtroom, the prosecutor, Maria Sabina Calabretta, argued that the two men acted with “homicidal intent” when they assaulted Deputy Brig. Mario Cerciello Rega and his partner on a July night in 2019.
“A grave injustice” had been “committed against a good man who was working,” she said, and only the convictions of Finnegan Elder, 21 and Gabriel Natale Hjorth, 20, would ensure that the officer “not be killed again.”
The yearlong trial has drawn intense media scrutiny in Italy and headlines in the United States with its focus on the behavior of the two Americans the night of the confrontation and the tragic death of the newly married officer.
this past week, Mr. Elder testified that he thought the two plainclothes officers were “thugs” sent by the middleman whose knapsack they had stolen, and that he and Mr. Natale Hjorth had acted in self-defense after the two officers jumped them. He said he had “panicked,” and stabbed Brigadier Cerciello Rega, who he thought was trying to choke him.
Mr. Elder testified that the two officers did not identify themselves as carabinieri and that they did not show their badges when they approached him and Mr. Natale Hjorth, a San Francisco school friend who had joined him for two days in Rome during the last leg of a summer trip in Europe.
Ms. Calabretta on Saturday challenged Mr. Elder’s account of the confrontation, noting that Officer Varriale had testified last summer that the officers had identified themselves as law enforcement and shown their badges.
The prosecutor also contested the defense narrative that suggested that the two Americans had been unexpectedly tackled by the officers from behind. Instead, she said Saturday, the two officers had approached them head-on and had been assaulted by the defendants without a second thought.
“Cerciello had no time to react,” she said.
“It was a violent, deadly, disproportionate attack,” she said.
Mr. Elder had brought a knife to the encounter, a sign of his “homicidal intent,” she added.
In his statement to the court last Monday, Mr. Elder said he had put the knife in the pocket of his hoodie because it made him “feel safer.”
After the confrontation, the two defendants returned to their nearby hotel unaware, they testified, of the seriousness of Brigadier Cerciello Rega’s condition. They were arrested in their hotel room a few hours later.