An American student accused of killing an Italian police officer has apologized in court in Rome.
Finnegan Lee Elder, 20, is on trial along with his friend Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 19, for the fatal stabbing of Mario Cerciello Rega in a street in central Rome in July last year. Elder called the night of the murder “the worst of my life.”
“I want to apologize to everyone, to Cerciello Rega’s family and to his friends. To the whole world, ”he told the Rome Assize Court. “If I could go back and change things, I would do it now, but I can’t.”
Cerciello Rega, 35, was killed and his colleague, Andrea Varriale, injured after officers, both in civilian clothes, were confronted with Elder and Natale-Hjorth in Rome’s Prati neighborhood as they tried to investigate on a ripped bag.
Earlier in the evening, Elder and Natale-Hjorth, who were in the Italian capital on vacation, tried to buy cocaine in Trastevere, a popular nightlife district. An intermediary took them to a drug dealer, who sold them aspirin instead. In retaliation, they seized the middleman’s bag, which contained his cell phone, and fled before demanding a cash ransom and cocaine to return the bag.
The middleman was able to contact the pair after calling their phone and arranged to meet with them in Prati. But he also contacted the police after reporting the theft, so the two police officers attended the scene.
The defendants, both from California, said they mistook the officers for criminals associated with the intermediary.
The pair fled the scene and the next day they were found in a hotel, where police found the 18 cm (7 inch) knife that was allegedly used to stab Cerciello Rega 11 times. An elder told police he brought the knife in a suitcase from the United States.
Elder and Natale-Hjorth have been held in a Rome prison since their arrest and face a life sentence if convicted.
Elder said he had not spoken before due to a “lack of courage.”
“In prison, I had time to think,” he added. “I mean that night was the worst of my life, not because I’m in prison but because I took someone’s life, I took a husband from his wife, I broken a bond between brothers. And I took a son from his mother. I will never be able to forgive myself and I don’t expect Cerciello’s family to forgive me today, it would be difficult, but I hope that one day they can.
Cerciello Rega had just returned to work after his honeymoon when he was murdered. Hundreds of people, including senior government ministers, attended his funeral.