California man accused of killing police officer during Italian vacation says he was never shown a badge

A California man accused of murdering a police officer during an Italian vacation said neither the victim nor his partner showed their badges at any point during the fatal confrontation in 2019.

Gabriel Natale-Hjorth and his high school pal, Finnegan Lee Elder, are facing life behind bars for the death of Carabinieri Vice Brig. Mario Cerciello Rega, who was fresh off his honeymoon when he was killed during an undercover mission in Rome. The suspects, both from the San Francisco Bay area, initially blamed each other for the attack, but 20-year-old Elder eventually confessed to stabbing the officer with a 7-inch combat knife.



a group of people standing in front of a crowd: US Gabriel Natale-Hjorth (L) and US Finnegan Lee Elder (R), the two men accused of the killing of an Italien police officer, arrive for a hearing in their trial on February 3, 2021 in Rome.


© GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE
US Gabriel Natale-Hjorth (L) and US Finnegan Lee Elder (R), the two men accused of the killing of an Italien police officer, arrive for a hearing in their trial on February 3, 2021 in Rome.

US Gabriel Natale-Hjorth (L) and US Finnegan Lee Elder (R), the two men accused of the killing of an Italien police officer, arrive for a hearing in their trial on February 3, 2021 in Rome. (GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE/)

Prosecutors have alleged that Natale-Hjorth meanwhile wrestled with Rega’s partner, Andrea Varriale, who was also slightly injured in the confrontation.

The officers had been tasked at the time with intercepting the pair after an intermediary on a drug deal reported them for stealing his bag because he sold them aspirin instead cocaine.

Both men said they were unexpectedly jumped from behind by the cops, who they believed at the time to be associates of the drug dealer they had swindled.

“They approached without saying a word,” Natale-Hjorth said during a court appearance on Wednesday, according to a translation published by Italian news wire AGI.

Before Varriale, fell to the ground in the scuffle, he said “carabinieri,” referring to Italy’s military police, Natale-Hjorth recalled.

“But I didn’t think it was possible that they were carabinieri; they were dressed normally,” he testified. “They didn’t pull out a badge.”

Varriale has alternatively claimed the officers identified themselves at the start of the fatal interaction.

Both Natale-Hjorth and Varriale have been in prison since the stabbing. They are facing the same charges because anyone who participates indirectly in a murder can face homicide charges under Italian law.

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