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Americans await fate as Rome murder trial draws to a close

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ROME The pandemic was only hanging over Italy when the trial of two young American men accused of murdering an Italian policeman near their hotel while on vacation in 2019 began.

On Wednesday, after more than 14 months, defense attorneys will conclude their arguments, and the two defendants, former classmates from California, can expect to learn their plight later in the week.

Finnegan Lee Elder, now 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, now 20, insisted they were acting in self-defense. They say they thought they were being attacked by a pair of thugs or Mafiosi when Vice Rifleman Mario Cerciello Rega and his colleague Andrea Varriale approached them in civilian clothes in the early hours of July 26, 2019.

The officers were dispatched to follow up on a report of a small-scale extortion attempt allegedly engineered by the Americans in retaliation for botched drug trafficking when the young men were in Trastevere, a district of the Rome nightlife, earlier at night. .

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Much of the case rests on the testimony of Varriale, who insisted that the police identified themselves as police officers, against that of the young men, who, according to their own accounts, had spent the evening drinking beers and gunshots and unsuccessful attempts to buy cocaine. . Neither officer brought their duty pistols to the meeting.

Prosecutors alleged Elder repeatedly hammered a 7-inch (18-centimeter) military-style attack knife into Cerciello Rega, who had bled profusely and died shortly after in hospital.

The elder told the court that the heavy Cerciello Rega was fighting on him and that he feared the officer would try to strangle him, so he took out the knife and stabbed him. When the officer didn’t immediately let him go, he stabbed him again.

Under Italian law, alleged accomplices can also be charged with manslaughter even though prosecutors admit that they played no significant role in the actual murder. The prosecutor, in his closing arguments, asked the court to convict the two defendants and sentence them to life imprisonment, Italy’s most severe criminal sentence.

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