SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — The brother of Finnegan Lee Elder lashed out at Italian officials Thursday, calling his sibling’s murder conviction and life sentence in the slaying of an Italian police officer in Rome a “mockery of justice.”
The Rome jury of two judges and six civilians deliberated more than 12 hours before delivering the verdicts Wednesday against Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale Hjorth, 20, handing them Italy’s stiffest sentence.READ MORE: California AG Rob Bonta Launches Anti-Human Trafficking Teams
Elder and Natale-Hjorth were found guilty of all charges: homicide, attempted extortion, assault, resisting a public official and carrying an attack-style knife without just cause. There was a gasp in the Rome courtroom as the presiding judge, Marina Finiti, read the verdict.
Family remained stunned by the verdict hours later. Sean Elder, responding on behalf of my brother and his family, sent an emailed statement from Rome to KPIX 5 Thursday.
The statement read:
“I am confounded by this verdict that lacks both reason and compassion. It lays all the blame with two young boys, while holding blameless the Carabinieri who failed to follow basic police procedures which, had they been followed, would have Cerciello Rega with us here today. This verdict makes a mockery of justice by believing an incoherent story professed by an admitted liar, and then compensating that liar with an award of €50,000, while subjecting these boys to a sentence that is reserved for unredeemable, career criminals that commit premeditated killings.”
“The message sent by these judges is loud and clear. Those in a position of power, the Carabinieri and the prosecutors, can lie and mislead and they will not be held responsible. Those accused can tell the truth and acknowledge their own part in wrongdoing, and they will not receive credit for doing so. This is a sad day for holding those in positions of power accountable. This is a sad day for justice.”
“I look forward to having the appellate court, with experienced, rational judges, objectively review the facts to determine a just outcome in this case for these two young boys.”
Prosecutors alleged that Elder stabbed Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega 11 times with a knife that he brought with him on his trip to Europe from California and that Natale-Hjorth helped him hide the knife in their hotel room. Under Italian law, an accomplice in an alleged murder can also be charged with murder even without materially doing the slaying.
The July 26, 2019, killing of the officer in the storied Carabinieri paramilitary police corps shocked Italy. Cerciello Rega, 35, was mourned as a national hero.
The slain officer’s widow, who held a photo of her dead husband while waiting for the verdict, broke down in tears and hugged his brother, Paolo.READ MORE: Vegetation Fire Burning in San Jose Coyote Creek Area Near Capitol Expressway
“His integrity was defended,” Rosa Maria Esilio said outside the courtroom, between sobs. “He was everyone’s son, everyone’s Carabinieri. He was a marvelous husband, he was a marvelous man, a servant of the state who merited respect and honor.”
The defendants were led immediately out of the courtroom after the verdicts were read. As Elder was being walked out, his father, Ethan Elder, called out, “Finnegan, I love you.” Both of his parents looked stunned.
Elder’s lawyer, Renato Borzone, called the verdict against his client “a disgrace for Italy.” Natale-Hjorth’s lawyer, Fabio Alonzi, said he was speechless.
For the brief final hearing before deliberations Wednesday, the two Californians were allowed out of steel-barred defendant cages inside the courtroom to sit with their lawyers before the case went to the jury.
“I’m stressed,” Elder said to one of his lawyers. Elder fingered a crucifix he wears on a chain around his neck and kissed it before the jury went out. He also turned to his codefendant, Natale-Hjorth, and held the crucifix toward him through a glass partition, motioning heavenward.
Elder and his father crossed their fingers toward each other for good luck after the jury went into chambers.
Natale-Hjorth was greeted by his father and Italian uncle, who were present for the deliberations.
Cerciello Rega had recently returned from a honeymoon when he was assigned along with partner, officer Andrea Varriale, to follow up on a reported extortion attempt. They went in plainclothes and didn’t carry their service pistols.
Prosecutors contend the young Americans concocted a plot involving a stolen bag and cellphone after their failed attempt to buy cocaine with 80 euros ($96) in Rome’s Trastevere nightlife district. Natale-Hjorth and Elder testified they had paid for the cocaine but didn’t receive it.MORE NEWS: Willow Fire Breaks Out In Monterey County, Evacuations Ordered
Both defendants contended they acted in self-defense.