Italy court upholds convictions of 2 Americans in killing of Italian police officer, reduces sentences

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An appeals court in Italy has upheld the convictions of two American men in the 2019 killing of an Italian police officer during a drug deal gone wrong in Rome, but reduced their sentences.

Lee Elder Finnegan and Gabriele Natale-Hjorth were convicted in a new trial after Italy’s high court threw out their convictions in March. After the convictions were upheld in the new trial, Finnegan was sentenced to 15 years and two months in prison while Natale-Hjorth was sentenced to 11 years and four months, along with an $863 fine.

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Finnegan and Natale-Hjorth were 18 and 19 years old, respectively, at the time of the killing of Carabinieri Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega on July 26, 2019.

Finnegan and Natale-Hjorth, friends from the San Francisco Bay Area, met up in Rome and arranged to meet a small-time drug dealer to recover money they had paid for cocaine they never received.


The drug dealer turned out to be a police informant who called police.

The fatal confrontation happened after the two teens were confronted by the two plainclothes officers. 

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Rega was stabbed 11 times with a knife brought from Finnegan and Natale-Hjorth’s hotel room.


Rega – who had just returned from his honeymoon with his longtime sweetheart a few days prior – was mourned as a national hero.

In ordering the retrial, the court said it hadn’t been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants, with limited Italian language skills, had understood that they were dealing with Italian police officers when they went to meet the alleged drug dealer in Rome.

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The defense had argued that the defendants didn’t know they were facing law enforcement when the attack happened, an argument their lawyers repeated during the new trial.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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