Retrial in Italy ordered for 2 Bay Area men convicted of killing police officer

People standing in an Italian courtroom
Finnegan Lee Elder wipes his eyes as he and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth listen to their guilty verdicts in the slaying of an Italian plainclothes police officer.
(Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press)

Italy’s highest court has ordered a retrial for two California men who were convicted in the slaying of an Italian police officer during a sting operation gone bad.

The Court of Cassation late Wednesday threw out the guilty verdicts against Finnegan Lee Elder, now 23, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 22, who were convicted in the stabbing death of the 35-year-old caribiniere during a plainclothes operation in Rome, where the two Americans were on vacation, in the summer of 2019.

The court will divulge the reasons for its decision in the coming weeks and instruct an appeals court on which issues should be examined in a new trial.


Elder’s lawyer, Roberto Capra, expressed satisfaction at the decision, saying a new trial would open the possibility of recalculating the sentence.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale Hjorth, 20, are sentenced to live in prison for the slaying of an Italian police officer in 2019.

May 5, 2021

The two men, friends from Northern California, were sentenced to life in prison, Italy’s toughest penalty, in the initial trial in 2021. An appeals court upheld the verdict but reduced the sentence to 24 years for Elder and 22 years for Natale-Hjorth.

The defense has argued that plainclothes carabinieri didn’t identify themselves as law enforcement during an operation to recover the backpack that the two Americans stole during a failed drug deal.

Carabiniere Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was stabbed 11 times. Elder contended that he thought he was being strangled by the man and pulled out a knife in self-defense to break free.

Natale-Hjorth testified that he grappled with Cerciello Rega’s partner and was unaware of the stabbing when he ran back to a hotel.