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guilty verdict

2 American students found guilty of killing Italian policeman

Two college students from California were found guilty on Wednesday of killing an Italian policeman in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, were accused of stabbing to death 35-year-old Vice Brig. Mario Cerciello Rega while they were vacationing in Rome. On the night of July 25, the men — friends from high school — had been ripped off by a drug dealer, and they stole the backpack of a middleman who gave them an over-the-counter pain medicine instead of cocaine. Elder and Natale-Hjorth set up a meeting to give the man his backpack in exchange for their money, but instead encountered Cerciello Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale.

Elder said he thought Cerciello Rega was a drug dealer who was trying to "strangle or choke me," but Varriale testified that both officers showed Elder and Natale-Hjorth their badges. Cerciello Rega was stabbed 11 times, and Varriale said that blood was pouring out of his body like "a fountain."

In a statement, Elder apologized to Cerciello Rega's family and friends, adding that if he could "go back and change things, I would do it now, but I can't." Elder's attorney, Renato Borzone, has promised to appeal, saying it is "unheard of" to give two young men life sentences. "Italy's justice is strong with the weak, and weak with the strong," Borzone added.