US student’s trial over Italian police murder plagued by ‘mistranslations’

The apparent confession by a US student that he knew an Italian he stabbed to death last year was a policeman was flawed due to mistranslation, his lawyer said on Thursday.

US student's trial over Italian police murder plagued by 'mistranslations'
An Italian caribinieri military police officer at a police station in Rome. Photo: AFP

Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth are to stand trial next week in Rome over the killing of Mario Cerciello Rega, who was in plain clothes when he was killed in a drug bust that went wrong on July 26.

In a leaked transcript of a secretly-recorded conversation in jail between Elder and his father, the student appears to say he had known that Cerciello, 35, was a policeman and had seen a police car, or in slang, a “tank”.

The two teens face life sentences if found guilty of knowingly killing a police officer.

READ ALSO: 'A terrible affair which cannot go unpunished': Italy mourns murdered police officer

The apparently damning conversation “has been taken as proof they knew,” Elder's lawyer, Renato Borzone, told AFP.

But the transcript done by police and delivered to prosecutors “was badly translated, and there are bits missing”, he said.

Mistakes included basic errors such as transcribing the word “tank”, when in fact Elder said “bank”, a reference to a landmark.

Borzone said he expected the transcript to be re-translated by a court-appointed, independent translator. Nevertheless, he said, the leak to the press of the faulty transcript had seen the youngsters risk a trial by media.

Prosecutors have said that Elder, 20, admitted to stabbing Cerciello with an 18-inch combat knife, but that he thought the officer and his partner Andrea Varriale were drug dealers, and that he was fighting for his life.

The San Francisco native, who was 19 at the time of the incident, says Cerciello attacked him from behind, while Varriale wrestled with Natale-Hjorth, 18.

Elder told his father the officers did not show their badges or identify themselves as policemen.

But his statement that “they didn't show anything, didn't say anything” was missing from the transcript leaked to the press, the Corriere della Sera said.

Cerciello and his partner, who were in plain clothes and unarmed, intercepted the teens after a drug deal that went wrong.

Demonstrators hold up a photo of police officer Mario Cerciello Rega. Photo: AFP

The teens fled following a fight, during which Cerciello was stabbed 11 times, but were tracked to their four-star hotel where police found the knife in the false ceiling of their room.

Natale-Hjorth initially told investigators he had not been involved, but his fingerprints were found on the ceiling panel.

Under Italian law, anyone who participates even indirectly in a murder can face homicide charges.

The two are being held in Rome's Regina Coeli jail, where Elder – who has suffered from panic attacks over the past two years – is under constant surveillance because of his fragile state of mind, Borzone said.

“Elder is very depressed, and very sorry about what happened. He has been depicted as a bully, but he's not,” he added.

A source close to the Elder family told AFP the case against the young men was full of inconsistencies, and lies told by Varriale in the immediate aftermath of the stabbing seriously undermined his credibility as a witness.

Tributes to murdered officer Mario Rega Cerciello outside a police station in Rome. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP


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Italy’s president calls for ‘full truth’ on anniversary of Bologna bombing

President Sergio Mattarella said on Tuesday it was the state's duty to shed more light on the 1980 bombing of Bologna's train station, on the 42nd anniversary of the attack that killed 85 people and injured 200.

Italy's president calls for 'full truth' on anniversary of Bologna bombing

On August 2nd 1980, a bomb exploded in the railway station’s waiting room, causing devastation on an unprecedented scale.

Five members of terrorist groups were later convicted in relation to the bombing, the worst episode in Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’ period of political violence in the 1970s and 80s.

Most recently, in 2020, a former member of the far-right Armed Revolutionary Nucleus (NAR) was sentenced to life imprisonment for providing logistical support to those who carried out the attack.

But suspicions remain of cover-ups and the involvement of “deviant elements” within the nation’s security services, reported Italian news agency Ansa.

READ ALSO: Bologna massacre: 40 years on, questions remain over Italy’s deadliest postwar terror attack

“The bomb that killed people who happened to be at the station on that morning 42 years ago still reverberates with violence in the depths of the country’s conscience,” Mattarella said in a speech marking the anniversary on Tuesday.

“It was the act of cowardly men of unequalled inhumanity, one of the most terrible of the history of the Italian Republic.

A train compartment at Bologna station pictured following the 1980 bombing attributed to the neo-fascist terrorist organization Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari.

“It was a terrorist attack that sought to destabilise democratic institutions and sow fear, hitting ordinary citizens going about their everyday tasks.

“On the day of the anniversary our thoughts go, above all, to the relatives forced to suffer the greatest pain.

“The neo-fascist nature of the massacre has been established in court and further steps have been made to unveil the cover-ups and those who ordered the attack in order to comply with the Republic’s duty to seek the full truth”.

The bombing remains Western Europe’s fourth deadliest postwar terror attack, and one of the most devastating in Italy’s history.