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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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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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