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Rome prosecutors ‘hid evidence’ in murder case against US students

Italian prosecutors hid evidence that a key figure in the murder of a Rome cop by two US students was a police informer, a defence lawyer told AFP Saturday.

Rome prosecutors 'hid evidence' in murder case against US students
Fabio Alonzi (L) and Francesco Petrelli (R), lawyers of US citizen Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth. Photo: AFP

Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth are on trial in Rome over the killing of Mario Cerciello Rega, who was in plain clothes when he was slain in a night drug bust on July 26 last year.

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

“This is the latest worrying development to give us the impression they are trying to hide something in this trial,” Elder's lawyer Renato Borzone said.

The prosecutors' office was not immediately available for comment.

Elder, 20, has admitted to stabbing Cerciello with an 8-inch combat knife.

But he insists Cerciello and his partner Andrea Varriale did not identify themselves, and he thought he was fighting for his life against drug dealers.

 

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, then 18.

Varriale says when he and Cerciello stopped the youngsters, they were attacked. Cerciello was left with 11 wounds.

'Lies'

Natale-Hjorth initially told investigators he had not been involved, but his fingerprints were found on a ceiling panel in the hotel room where the students had hidden the knife.

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

The defence says lies told by Varriale in the immediate aftermath of the stabbing — such as whether or not the policemen were armed, as they should have been while on duty — seriously undermine his credibility as a witness.

In the latest twist, Elder's lawyers discovered a statement taken during the police investigation was illegally withheld by the prosecution ahead of the trial.

“It's extremely serious, it cannot be considered a mere error,” Borzone said.

 

In the statement, policeman Fabrizio Pacella admitted drug dealer Italo Pompei was an informant of his.

Pompei was introduced to the Americans by an intermediary, whose bag they stole when they were sold fake drugs.

Borzone said the fact Pompei was a police source could answer many questions surrounding the case, including why Cerciello and Varriale left their designated patrol area, without informing central command, to track down the two young Americans.

Italy's best-selling Corriere della Sera daily suggested the policemen may have been determined to recover the stolen bag because it had a mobile phone inside which could have unmasked Pompei.

“If they've lied about what happened before (the attack), they've lied about what happened during,” Borzone said.

The case continues with three hearings next week, when Pompei and the intermediary will take the stand.

The hearings at the Rome court are being held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite a nationwide lockdown imposed in March having been nearly entirely lifted.

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BOLOGNA

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.

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