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CRIME

‘Worst night of my life’: US student charged with murder of Italian policeman apologises in court

A US student on trial for killing an Italian policeman during a failed drug bust last year tearfully apologised on Wednesday, saying he would never forgive himself.

'Worst night of my life': US student charged with murder of Italian policeman apologises in court
US student Finnegan Lee Elder, with a partially missing middle finger, attends his murder trial in Rome on September 16th. Photo: AFP
Finnegan Lee Elder, 20, read a statement in front of the Rome court in which he said the evening of July 26, 2019 was “the worst night of my life”,
according to Italian news agencies at the hearing, which is closed to most media due to coronavirus restrictions.
 
 
Elder and friend Gabriel Natale-Hjorth face life sentences for murder.
 
Prosecutors say Mario Cerciello Rega was killed in an unprovoked nighttime attack after he and his partner, both in plain clothes, approached the two
Americans on vacation in Italy, who had earlier tried to buy drugs.
 
US student Gabriel Natale-Hjorth attends his murder trial in Rome on September 16th. Photo: AFP
 
Elder has admitted to stabbing policeman Mario Cerciello Rega several times with an eight-inch combat knife, but both he and Hjorth say they were jumped
from behind by men they thought were drug dealers.
 
“I want to apologise to everyone, the Cerciello family and his friends,” Elder, in tears, told the court.
 
“To the whole world. That night was the worst night of my life and if I could go back and change things I would do it now, but I can't,” he added.
 
“I want to say that that night was the worst night of my life, not because I am in prison, away from everyone,” he said.
 
“There are other reasons: I took a person's life, I took a husband from his wife, I broke a bond between brothers. And I have taken a son from his mother.
I will never be able to forgive myself for all this.”
 
Rosa Maria Esilio and Paolo Cerciello Rega, widow and brother of Italian Carabiniere Mario Cerciello Rega, in court. Photo: AFP
 
Cerciello's death was front-page news last year due to an outpouring of public sympathy for the policeman, who had just returned to work after his
honeymoon.
 
But there was also widespread shock over leaked photos of Natale-Hjorth blindfolded and handcuffed inside a police station.
 
Natale-Hjorth fought with Cerciello's partner during the attack. Even though he did not stab Cerciello, under Italian law he faces the same charge
of “voluntary homicide” with a special circumstance of killing a police officer.
 
 
Elder and Natale-Hjorth, both from San Francisco, were 19 and 18 at the time of the killing.
 
A confusing web of events led to the 32-second attack, beginning with the young Americans looking for cocaine earlier in the evening.
 
After an intermediary introduced them to a drug dealer who sold them aspirin instead, the teens stole the bag of the intermediary in retaliation, later demanding money and drugs to return it.
 
The dealer was actually an informant, who reported the bag's theft to police.
 
Cerciello and his partner Andrea Varriale left their designated patrol area and showed up at the designated exchange point near the teenagers' hotel before the attack.
 
US student Finnegan Lee Elder speaks to his lawyer in court on September 16th. Photo: AFP
 
Defence attorneys have tried to show that police committed multiple errors the night of the incident – alleging lies by Varriale, a falsified police
report and the withholding from the defence of evidence that the drug dealer was a police informant.
 
They hope these missteps will give credence to the young men's claim that the officers did not show their badges before the attack.
In July, Varriale testified that the two officers approached the young men from the front and showed their badges, although Cerciello's badge was never
subsequently found.
 
Varriale admitted to lying when he said following the attack that both officers had been armed, as they should have been while on duty, and that he
conspired with a superior officer to lie about it.
 
In his statement in court, Elder said “many mistakes were made that night. Mine was the biggest.”
 
“I would like to go back and change things, but I cannot. All I can say is that I feel remorse. I am in pain for the suffering I have caused. I am sorry and very sad for what happened to Cerciello”.
 
Rosa Maria Esilio hold a photo of Italian Carabiniere Mario Cerciello Rega in court. Photo: AFP
 

 

'Dangerous precedent': Italy's lawyers warn of media blackouts at trials

 

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CRIME

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

Italian police on Saturday arrested a mafia member suspected of killing two alleged Chinese prostitutes and a Colombian sex worker in Rome, local media reported.

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

The bodies of the two Chinese women were discovered in a residential building in the upmarket Prati district on Thursday morning, while the body of the South American was found in an apartment in the same neighbourhood an hour later.

All three victims were stabbed, according to Italian media reports.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, footage from surveillance cameras allowed police to identify 51-year-old Giandavide De Pau, who had been prosecuted in the past for drug trafficking and sexual assault.

The suspect is reportedly a member of a mafia clan headed by Michele Senese, who is currently serving a life sentence. De Pau is believed to have been one of Senese’s closest collaborators, acting as his personal driver and handyman.

In 2008 and 2011, the suspect had also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

It is unknown whether the suspected killer was carrying out a mafia hit or acting alone, possibly under the influence of drugs, which were found at the home of some family members where he is believed to have sought refuge after the police manhunt got underway, Corriere della Sera reported.

Several newspapers had warned of a possible “serial killer” in the Italian capital.

The body of one of the Chinese victims was spotted by a neighbour where it lay, naked on a landing. The woman, believed to be in her 40s, had suffered head and stomach injuries, the newspaper said.

When police entered her apartment, they found the body of the second Chinese woman.

Nobody in the building appeared to have heard the murders take place, according to residents.

“Everybody knew there was a house of ill repute here, I’d see people arriving at 2:00 am, 3:00 am,” a woman who lived in the building told reporters.

The body of the Colombian, who was 65, was found by a friend, Corriere della Sera said.

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