Rome prosecutors ‘hid evidence’ in murder case against US students

Italian prosecutors hid evidence that a key figure in the murder of a Rome cop by two US students was a police informer, a defence lawyer told AFP Saturday.

Rome prosecutors 'hid evidence' in murder case against US students
Fabio Alonzi (L) and Francesco Petrelli (R), lawyers of US citizen Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth. Photo: AFP

Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth are on trial in Rome over the killing of Mario Cerciello Rega, who was in plain clothes when he was slain in a night drug bust on July 26 last year.

The two face life sentences if found guilty of knowingly killing a police officer.

“This is the latest worrying development to give us the impression they are trying to hide something in this trial,” Elder's lawyer Renato Borzone said.

The prosecutors' office was not immediately available for comment.

Elder, 20, has admitted to stabbing Cerciello with an 8-inch combat knife.

But he insists Cerciello and his partner Andrea Varriale did not identify themselves, and he thought he was fighting for his life against drug dealers.


The San Francisco native, who was 19 at the time of the incident, says Cerciello attacked him from behind, while Varriale wrestled with Natale-Hjorth, then 18.

Varriale says when he and Cerciello stopped the youngsters, they were attacked. Cerciello was left with 11 wounds.


Natale-Hjorth initially told investigators he had not been involved, but his fingerprints were found on a ceiling panel in the hotel room where the students had hidden the knife.

Under Italian law, anyone who participates even indirectly in a murder can face homicide charges.

The defence says lies told by Varriale in the immediate aftermath of the stabbing — such as whether or not the policemen were armed, as they should have been while on duty — seriously undermine his credibility as a witness.

In the latest twist, Elder's lawyers discovered a statement taken during the police investigation was illegally withheld by the prosecution ahead of the trial.

“It's extremely serious, it cannot be considered a mere error,” Borzone said.


In the statement, policeman Fabrizio Pacella admitted drug dealer Italo Pompei was an informant of his.

Pompei was introduced to the Americans by an intermediary, whose bag they stole when they were sold fake drugs.

Borzone said the fact Pompei was a police source could answer many questions surrounding the case, including why Cerciello and Varriale left their designated patrol area, without informing central command, to track down the two young Americans.

Italy's best-selling Corriere della Sera daily suggested the policemen may have been determined to recover the stolen bag because it had a mobile phone inside which could have unmasked Pompei.

“If they've lied about what happened before (the attack), they've lied about what happened during,” Borzone said.

The case continues with three hearings next week, when Pompei and the intermediary will take the stand.

The hearings at the Rome court are being held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite a nationwide lockdown imposed in March having been nearly entirely lifted.

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Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro dies after long illness

The notorious mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, captured in January after three decades on the run, has died in hospital in central Italy.

Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro dies after long illness

Matteo Messina Denaro, known as the ‘last godfather’ of the Cosa Nostra mafia and accused of a long series of heinous crimes, Italian news agency Ansa announced overnight on Sunday.

The 61-year-old had colon cancer, for which he had sought treatment while on the run – a decision that reportedly brought him to the attention of the authorities, who arrested him at a clinic in Palermo.

Messina Denaro was one of the most ruthless bosses in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies.

He was convicted by the courts of involvement in the murder of anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone in 1992 and in deadly bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993.

One of his six life sentences was also handed down for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the 12-year-old son of a witness in the Falcone case.

Messina Denaro disappeared in the summer of 1993, and spent the next 30 years on the run as the Italian state cracked down on the Sicilian mob.

READ ALSO: Messina Denaro: How Italy caught ‘most wanted’ mafia boss after 30 years

But he remained the top name on Italy’s most-wanted list and, increasingly became a figure of legend.

He was arrested on January 16th as he visited a health clinic where he was being treated using a fake identity.

Mafia boss hideout in Sicily

Police officers prevent access to mafia boss Messina Denaro’s hideout in Campobello di Mazara, Sicily. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

He was detained in a high-security jail in L’Aquila, central Italy, where he continued treatment for his cancer in his cell.

In August, Messina Denaro was moved to the inmates’ ward of the local hospital, where his condition had declined in recent days.

This weekend, media reports said he was in an “irreversible coma”. Medics had stopped feeding him and he had asked not to be resuscitated, they added.

His arrest may have brought some relief for his victims, but the mob boss always maintained his silence.

In interviews in custody since being arrested, Messina Denaro even denied he was a member of the Cosa Nostra.


After Messina Denaro went on the run, there was intense speculation that he had gone abroad – and he likely did.

But in the end, he was found to have been staying near his hometown of Castelvetrano in western Sicily.

READ ALSO: Police arrest dozens in major raid on Italy’s youngest mafia

Preparations are already under way for his burial in the family tomb in the town, alongside his father, Don Ciccio, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Don Ciccio was also head of the local clan. He was said to have died of a heart attack while on the run, his body left in the countryside, dressed for the funeral.

Investigators had been combing the Sicilian countryside for Messina Denaro for years, searching for hideouts and wiretapping members of his family and his friends.

They were heard discussing the medical problems of an unnamed person who suffered from cancer, as well as eye problems – a person who detectives became sure was Messina Denaro.

They used a national health system database to search for male patients of the right age and medical history, and eventually closed in.