Finnegan Lee Elder (pictured), 20, admitted to stabbing officer Mario Cerciello Rega
An American student on trial in Italy for the murder of a plain-clothed policeman has claimed he was kicked, punched and spat on while in custody, according to a leaked transcript.
Finnegan Lee Elder, 20, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 19, are charged with killing newlywed officer Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, who was stabbed 11 times last July.
‘They beat me pretty bad … in the (police) station,’ Elder was secretly recorded as saying during a private conversation in prison with his father and American lawyer.
‘They threw me to the ground, kicked me, punched me, stood on me, spit on me,’ he said according to a transcript of the conversation requested by the court.
The claim of police brutality follows the leaking of photographs of Hjorth blindfolded and handcuffed at the Rome barracks where he and Elder had been taken for questioning following the police officer’s death.
Elder, 20, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 19, (right) are charged with stabbing Deputy Brigadier Rega to death in Rome
Both boys claim their confessions to the murder were signed under duress and after hours of bullying and intimidation.
The two men from the San Francisco Bay Area of California, who had been on vacation in Rome, face life sentences if convicted.
Brigadier Rega (pictured) died from multiple stab wounds
‘The awful truth of what Finnegan was subjected to and endured as a terrified 19-year-old is now being revealed to the world,’ his father Ethan said.
‘Our hearts break every minute of every hour of every day,’ he said.
During the conversation at the Regina Coeli prison on August 2 last year, Elder was asked where the police station was.
He said said: ‘I have no idea – they kept my head down a long time’.
Had he been blindfolded like Hjorth? ‘No, no, I – I don’t really remember too well… I was, they had me waiting so long, it’s kind of a blur.’
He said he was assaulted and left with two bruises on his right arm and one on his leg while ‘in the police station’.
‘They said they would give me 40 years if I didn’t give them my phone password,’ he added.
Elder and Natale-Hjorth’s lawyers have called for film from a bank’s security camera overlooking the murder scene, seized by the police investigators, to be made public as it supports their clients’ case of self-defense.
The murder sparked a national outcry. The funeral was held in the same church where Rega had married just months before
Elder, 20, is pictured at court in Italy at the opening of the trial for the murder of an Italian officer last year
Prosecutors claim the film is of no interest to the case.
Elder, 20, has admitted to stabbing Cerciello with an 8-inch serrated-edge combat knife he had stashed in his sweatshirt but he insists Cerciello and his partner Andrea Varriale attacked them.
He said he thought he was fighting for his life against drug dealers.
Varriale said when he and Cerciello stopped the youngsters, the plain-clothed officers were set upon – and Cerciello died from multiple wounds.
Hours earlier, the young men had gone looking for cocaine in the popular night-life area of Trastevere. Intermediary Sergio Brugiatelli introduced them to a dealer who sold them aspirin instead.
In retaliation, the teens stole Brugiatelli’s bag, before demanding money and drugs to return it.
Cerciello and Varriale went in Brugiatelli’s place to the designated exchange point in an upscale neighborhood near the teenagers’ hotel but the handover never took place.
Natale-Hjorth is pictured in February at the opening of his trial for the killing of Italian policeman Mario Cerciello Rega in Rome
Mario Cerciello Rega, who had just returned to work from his honeymoon, suffered 11 stab wounds and later died in hospital from his injuries
Elder told police they were jumped from behind by the officers and believed they were thugs sent by Brugiatelli.
Varriale has said he and Rega, both in plain clothes, told the young men they were police, but that Elder pulled out a knife and attacked Rega, while Natale-Hjorth wrestled with Varriale.
Rega, a Carbinieri deputy brigadier, died from stabs wounds in the early hours of July 26.
The teens then fled to their nearby hotel, where police later found the military knife hidden behind a ceiling panel.
The pair are also charged with attempted extortion, resisting arrest and injuring Varriale.
Elder’s legal team claim their client Elder acted in self-defense when he stabbed officer Rega.
Natale-Hjorth’s lawyers are attempting to distance their client from Elder and for him to be judged separately for his part in the events.
Under Italian law, anyone who participates even indirectly in a murder can face homicide charges.
The defence says lies told by Varriale in the immediate aftermath of the stabbing — such as whether or not the policemen were armed, as they should have been while on duty — seriously undermine his credibility as a witness.
Last month Elder’s lawyers said they had discovered a statement taken during the police investigation, which revealed a key figure in the case was a police informant, had been illegally withheld by the prosecution.
In Italy, the slaying aroused an outpouring of public sympathy for Rega, who had just returned from his honeymoon when he was killed.
Maria Rosaria Cerciello Rega is seen at the first day of the trial of the two men accused of killing her cop husband. They had just returned from their honeymoon when he died
The death of the Rega (pictured) shook Italians and has dominated newspaper headlines across the country
Speaking outside the court in February, Elder’s lawyer explained that his client had no idea that Rega was a policeman.
Renato Borzone told DailyMail.com: ‘Finnegan does not dispute what happened that night. But Finn and Gabriel had no idea they were fighting with policemen, they thought they were criminals.
‘At no point did Officer Rega show Finn his badge. And even if he said he was a Carbinieri [ Italian paramilitary police] Finn does not speak Italian so he did not understand.
‘The boys thought Rega and his partner were working with the drug dealer. They were sure that the people that they met were criminals.
‘And we will demonstrate in court that when they were taken by surprise they did not think they were Carabinieri but criminals.’
Natale-Hjorth could face life in prison if convicted. He is from the affluent area of Mill Valley, California, known as ‘millionaire’s village’
Elder’s (left) legal team claim their client acted in self-defense when he stabbed officer Rega. Natale-Hjorth’s (right) lawyers are attempting to distance their client from Elder and for him to be judged separately for his part in the event
Speaking after the trial opened in February Elder’s parents Ethan and Leah said they were pleased that the legal process had started and looked forward to the truth coming out about what happened on the night in Rome.
They said in a statement: ‘We are grateful that this process is finally moving forward and we hope that this trial can stay focused on the facts of what happened that night. We look forward to the truth coming out, and to Finn coming home.
Huge crowds attended the officer’s funeral in July last year – which was broadcast live on television – and he was hailed as a hero.
The case has been marked by major blunders – especially the blindfolding of Natale-Hjorth during his police interrogation (pictured)
But the case has also been marked by major blunders – especially the blindfolding of Natale-Hjorth during his police interrogation – and contradictory statements made by the key prosecution witness, Rega’s police partner Varriale.
Varriale said he and Cerciello had been attacked by men of North African descent. He also initially claimed he had been armed.
Both officers were in fact unarmed and acted without backup, in violation of police procedure.
Natale-Hjorth’s legal team Nicola Petrelli demanded that Officer Rega’s boss, Colonel Sandro Ottaviani, and other officers involved in blindfolding the youngster during his interrogation give evidence in court.
Lawyer Nicola Petrelli added that he wanted the court to see the phone records between the Carbinieri station and Rega, Varriale and the drug dealer in the hours leading up to the murder.
He claimed that these record will show that the operation against Natale-Hjorth and Elder were suspicious.
His other lawyer Roberto Capra demanded Officer Varriale’s phone be submitted in evidence as well as a document in which he falsely claimed he had his gun on the night murder.
Natale-Hjorth at the opening of the trial on February 26. The US teenagers are being tried for killing the officer Mario Cerciello Rega
This social media photo shows Natale-Hjorth flaunting his wealth outside the Gucci Shop in Rome just days before being arrested for the stabbing death of an Italian officer
The two officers approached Finnegan and Hjort and announced they were Carabinieri, but after brief exchange of words Finnegan pulled out a knife and stabbed Rega several times. Pictured the scene where the stabbing took place on the via Pietro Cossa
Hundreds of people turned out to honor Cerciello Rega outside a chapel in Rome in July 2019
Amid the intense media focus in the case, comparisons have been made to the high-profile trial of Amanda Knox, an American student convicted and later acquitted of a 2007 murder in Italy.
The young men and Varriale have given opposing versions of what happened during the 32-second attack in the early hours of the morning, which followed a botched drug deal.
Widow Esilio issued a statement ahead of the trial stating that her life, her family and her dreams all lay in ruins following her husband’s death.
Gabriel Natale Hjorth at the opening of the trial for the killing of Italian policeman Mario Cerciello Rega in Rome
She said: ‘Tomorrow is seven months since the murder of my husband Mario.
‘He believed in God, and was a brave police officer, who dedicated his life to the service of others, in particular the most vulnerable in society.
‘His murder cannot and must not go unpunished. Our new married life was cut short by criminals. His murder shocked the world. It shattered the peace of a lot of humble people, who just like Mario had faith in God.
‘These good people must compete every day with a minority who poison society with terrible crimes. Since Mario’s death, my family also is over, because our unborn children and all our dreams also lie in his grave.
‘My life has been reduced to memories and how our life would have been together.’
It continued: ‘I’m thankful to those that proved their sincere solidarity in this sad affair while I am in the hands of the judges, prosecutors and lawyer in my search for justice not revenge.
‘But also to you journalists from your words deepens the respect of the memory of the heroic sacrifice of Mario who fell defending the rule of law for all of us.’
Ethan and Leah Elder sat in court at the opening of the trial for their son in February
Ethan and Leah Elder released a statement saying they are pleased that the legal process had started and looked forward to the truth coming out about what happened on the night in Rome
Gabriel’s mother Heidi Hjorth, 57, (left) is a high-end realtor while his father, Italian-born Fabrizio Natale, 54, is also among the elite an Executive director at a venture capital and private equity firm
Natale-Hjorth hails from the leafy affluent enclave of Mill Valley – a small town located just a short drive from San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge often referred to as ‘millionaire’s village’, DailyMail.com previously revealed.
The town is packed with art galleries, trendy fashion boutiques and open-air coffee shops and is popular with wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and downtown financial brokers.
The 19-year old’s luxurious lifestyle is in stark contrast to the jail cell in Rome where he was awaiting trial.
Natale-Hjorth is from an affluent area of Northern California called ‘Millionaire’s Village’
This is the Natale-Hjorth’s family’s main home – a posh $1.65 million three bedroom house with stunning views of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area
This is the home of Elder and his family in the Sunset District of San Francisco
The pair have been held in solitary confinement at the Regina Coeli holding jail (above) in central Rome while detectives investigate the murder
Former Interior Minister, hardliner Matteo Salvini branded the accused ‘b******s’ and called for them to be sentenced to ‘hard labor for life’.
Lawyers acting for Elder and Natale-Hjorth have questioned whether the boys can get a fair trial.
Under Italian law, Natale-Hjorth, who was 18 years old last July, faces the same charge of ‘voluntary homicide’ with a special circumstance of killing a police officer, even though he did not stab Cerciello.
Both young men are also charged with attempted extortion. They face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment in isolation.
In March their trial was paused amid the coronavirus outbreak. It now continues.