“They tell me I killed a cop”: mother recounts phone call from US student at trial | Italy

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The US student who admitted stabbing a police officer in Rome last year was shaking and crying inside a police station after learning the attack was fatal, his mother said during her trial.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 20, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 19, face life sentences for the July 2019 death of policeman Mario Cerciello Rega in a botched drug attack in Rome while they were on holiday.

The case – which sparked an outcry of public sympathy for the newlywed Cerciello – hinges on whether the defendants knew Cerciello and his partner were police officers when they fought on a dark street in Rome.

The elder’s mother, Leah, recounted at the trial, which began in February, the video call she received from her distraught son after his arrest. “He said, ‘Mom, I’m in a police station,’ then he said, ‘This is bad, this is really, really bad.'”

She said he added, “They tell me I killed a cop. They say I stabbed a cop.

Her son, Leah Elder, she said, “was crying and shaking and he looked like his hands were behind his back.”

Prosecutors charge unprovoked attack on Cerciello and his partner, but defendants say they were jumped from behind and believed their attackers were thugs sent by a drug dealer who defrauded them when they attempted previously to buy cocaine.

Silvia, center, Mario Cerciello Rega’s mother and his wife, Rosa, attend a torchlight procession in memory of the police officer in July. Photograph: Antonio Masiello / Getty Images

Elder, who was 19 at the time of the attack, admitted to stabbing Cerciello with an eight inch combat knife, but insists he did not know Cerciello was a police officer because neither he nor his partner have identified themselves or have not shown their badges.

“He told me specifically, ‘If I had known they were cops, I wouldn’t have done anything,'” Craig Peters, a lawyer and friend of the Elder family who spoke with, said Thursday. Elder in prison after the attack.

Cerciello’s partner Andrea Varriale said the two identified themselves as police officers with their badges, although Cerciello’s was never found.

Natale-Hjorth, who fought with Varriale in the attack, faces the same charges as Elder, as anyone indirectly involved in a murder can face charges of homicide under Italian law.

Natale-Hjorth’s mother, Heidi Hjorth, also spoke up, telling Cerciello’s family sitting in the front row that ‘all my heart goes out to them’.

She said, “I am in pain today because my son cannot go home with me at the moment, but I feel immense sadness for the mother, wife and brother I see here today that their son, their husband, their brother will not come back to them. “

The trial is expected to continue until February.

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