An American student on trial in Italy for allegedly stabbing a plainclothes police officer to death last summer in Rome claimed he was kicked, punched and spat on in custody, according to a leaked transcript of a recording requested by the court.
Finnegan Lee Elder, 20, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 19, both from the San Francisco Bay Area, are charged in the murder of Officer Mario Cerciello Rega. Both face life sentences if convicted.
Rega, 35, was fatally stabbed 11 times with a seven-inch blade in a drug bust gone wrong on July 26, 2019, after recently returning to work after his honeymoon. The blade was later found hidden behind a ceiling panel in the Americans’ hotel room.
"They beat me pretty bad…in the station," Elder said in a secretly recorded conversation with his father and his American attorney at Regina Coeli prison last August.
"They threw me to the ground, kicked me, punched me, stood on me, spit on me," he said, according to a transcript of the recording requested by the court and obtained by Agence France-Presse.
Elder also claimed he got two bruises on his right arm and one on his leg at the police station.
"They said they would give me 40 years if I didn't give them my phone password," he said.
But he could not recall if he had been blindfolded like his friend.
Photographs taken last summer but recently leaked to the press showed Natale-Hjorth blindfolded and handcuffed at the Rome barracks where he and Elder were initially taken for questioning.
"No, no, I -- I don't really remember too well,” Elder was recorded saying when asked about the blindfold. “I was, they had me waiting so long, it's kind of a blur," he said.
“The awful truth of what Finnegan was subjected to and endured as a terrified 19-year-old is now being revealed to the world," Elder's father, Ethan, told AFP. "Our hearts break every minute of every hour of every day."
Police said Elder admitted to the stabbing while in custody. But Elder and Natale-Hjorth argue they thought the officers were drug dealers and acted in self-defense when Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale, both dressed in plainclothes, attacked them from behind.
The two Americans, who were teenagers at the time, attempted to buy cocaine in the Trastevere area, near to Vatican City, according to investigators. A man named Sergio Brugiatelli allegedly connected the two students with a dealer, who instead sold them crushed aspirin, the BBC reported.
The pair then took Brugiatelli’s backpack and demanded he give them their money back in addition to a gram of cocaine. That’s when Brugiatelli reportedly called the police and Rega and Varriale went undercover to meet the Americans at the spot designated for the exchange.
Their lawyers have requested that the surveillance video overlooking the murder scene – which has already been seized by investigators – be released to the public, as it could support their clients’ claim of self-defense, the Daily Mail reported. But prosecutors argue the video does not pertain to the case.