American Teen’s Lawyer in Italy Drops Bid for Release

By The Associated Press

ROME, Italy—The lawyer for one of two American teenagers being held in the slaying of an Italian police officer said Saturday that he has dropped a request for his client to be released.

Finnegan Lee Elder’s lawyer, Renato Borzone, said in a statement that the defense still needs more time to get a full picture of what happened. He added that he is still working to clarify “key passages” in the investigation.

Elder and his friend, Gabriel Natale-Hjorth who is also in custody, were jailed in Rome in July as authorities investigate their alleged roles in the fatal stabbing of Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega. Italian prosecutors say Elder confessed knifing the officer during a scuffle.

A hearing on Natale-Hjorth’s petition for release will be held on Sept. 16.

Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth (R) and Finnegan Lee Elder
Finnegan Lee Elder (L) and Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth sit in their hotel room in Rome, Italy. (Italian Carabinieri via AP)

In a family statement issued on Friday, Elder’s mother Leah said “she has been grateful to have been able to see her son” in Rome in the past two days and sent her thoughts to Cerciello Rega’s family.

“Finn is trying to stay hopeful but has suffered from severe depression since the incident,” the family said. “While in prison he has seen the way the media has portrayed him and the circumstances of the case and it has been difficult to hear the facts unfairly misrepresented.”

“The family hopes that the truth will come out soon, so that everyone involved can start the healing process,” it continued.

In a subsequent statement, the Elders’ attorneys said, “We have come to the end of the window in which the prosecution can gather reliable evidence (a month and half after the incident). It now appears that the prosecution has a case of what happened at the scene built on the statements of a declared liar, a drug pusher and a drunk.”

Elder’s U.S. attorneys said in a separate statement Friday that “the boys’ version of what happened that night has gained support from the objective incident and has become the only version that makes sense.”

Cerciello Rega was stabbed to death while he was investigating with a colleague an alleged drug deal gone wrong involving the two teens.

Prosecutors contend that Elder stabbed Cerciello Rega while Natale-Hjorth scuffled with the officer’s partner during a rendezvous organized by the teens to obtain money and cocaine in exchange for a backpack they had snatched.

The backpack belonged to an Italian man suspected of being an intermediary in the drug deal, who called the Carabinieri asking them to intervene.

Mario Cerciello Rega
Police officer Mario Cerciello Rega (R), 35, who was stabbed to death in Rome, Italy. (screenshot via Reuters)

Both teens have told investigators that they didn’t know that the two officers were Carabinieri as they were in plainclothes and didn’t identify themselves. But their version contradicts that of Cerciello Rega’s partner, who said they both showed their badges when they confronted the teens.

The young men were high school classmates in Mill Valley, a wealthy suburb 10 miles north of San Francisco en route to the towering redwood trees in Muir Woods National Park. The town of 14,000 is a desirable destination for families who are drawn to its safe, leafy neighborhoods and reputable public schools.

“We are shocked and dismayed at the events that have been reported, but we have very little independent information about these events,” Elder’s family said in a statement earlier in July. “We have not been able to have any communication with our son.”

The family expressed condolences to the policeman’s family and “all of those who have been impacted by this tragedy.”

By Giada Zampano