ROME, ITALY—Finnegan Elder, 20, of San Francisco is on trial for killing an Italian police officer in a drug-related incident from 2019. On Wednesday, September 16, Elder appeared again in an Italian court where he was charged with murder. He has been on trial in Rome since February.
Elder, and his friend Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 19, were on vacation in Italy last summer. On July 26, 2019, two plainclothes carabinieri officers approached them on the street after the two men were seen engaging in a drug deal. Prosecutors alleged that when the officers approached them, Elder stabbed the officer, identified as Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello, 11 times, after which Hjorth hid the weapon in an attempt to disguise the crime. The murder weapon was identified as a military-style attack knife that Elder brought in a suitcase from the United States. Officer Cerciello, 35, later passed away from his injuries. He left behind a newlywed wife and family.
In a court testimony last week, Cerciello’s partner, Andrea Varriale, testified that he and Cerciello identified themselves as police officers and showed their badges to the two young men, following protocol. According to court documents, Varriale said there was a scuffle with the two men before the crime took place. “At one point, I looked to the left, Mario was on his feet, swaying. ‘They stabbed me, they stabbed me’, [Cerciello] called out. I saw the blood coming out like a fountain to the ground, and he was having a hard time breathing,” Varriale testified according to court documents.
The suspects’ defense in court maintained that Elder and Hjorth did not realize the Italian carabinieri were officers as they weren’t in uniform, and they weren’t shown badges. The defense claims that the two men mistook the officers for thugs, and acted in self-defense.
In another trial later in the month, the court is expecting to hear a psychiatric evaluation of Elder requested by the defense. Under Italian law, defendants face the possibility of release if a psychiatric evaluation judges that they are “incapable of understanding and wanting” to commit a crime they have been charged with.