‘Worst night of my life’: US student charged with murder of Italian policeman apologises in court

A US student on trial for killing an Italian policeman during a failed drug bust last year tearfully apologised on Wednesday, saying he would never forgive himself.

'Worst night of my life': US student charged with murder of Italian policeman apologises in court
US student Finnegan Lee Elder, with a partially missing middle finger, attends his murder trial in Rome on September 16th. Photo: AFP
Finnegan Lee Elder, 20, read a statement in front of the Rome court in which he said the evening of July 26, 2019 was “the worst night of my life”,
according to Italian news agencies at the hearing, which is closed to most media due to coronavirus restrictions.
Elder and friend Gabriel Natale-Hjorth face life sentences for murder.
Prosecutors say Mario Cerciello Rega was killed in an unprovoked nighttime attack after he and his partner, both in plain clothes, approached the two
Americans on vacation in Italy, who had earlier tried to buy drugs.
US student Gabriel Natale-Hjorth attends his murder trial in Rome on September 16th. Photo: AFP
Elder has admitted to stabbing policeman Mario Cerciello Rega several times with an eight-inch combat knife, but both he and Hjorth say they were jumped
from behind by men they thought were drug dealers.
“I want to apologise to everyone, the Cerciello family and his friends,” Elder, in tears, told the court.
“To the whole world. That night was the worst night of my life and if I could go back and change things I would do it now, but I can't,” he added.
“I want to say that that night was the worst night of my life, not because I am in prison, away from everyone,” he said.
“There are other reasons: I took a person's life, I took a husband from his wife, I broke a bond between brothers. And I have taken a son from his mother.
I will never be able to forgive myself for all this.”
Rosa Maria Esilio and Paolo Cerciello Rega, widow and brother of Italian Carabiniere Mario Cerciello Rega, in court. Photo: AFP
Cerciello's death was front-page news last year due to an outpouring of public sympathy for the policeman, who had just returned to work after his
But there was also widespread shock over leaked photos of Natale-Hjorth blindfolded and handcuffed inside a police station.
Natale-Hjorth fought with Cerciello's partner during the attack. Even though he did not stab Cerciello, under Italian law he faces the same charge
of “voluntary homicide” with a special circumstance of killing a police officer.
Elder and Natale-Hjorth, both from San Francisco, were 19 and 18 at the time of the killing.
A confusing web of events led to the 32-second attack, beginning with the young Americans looking for cocaine earlier in the evening.
After an intermediary introduced them to a drug dealer who sold them aspirin instead, the teens stole the bag of the intermediary in retaliation, later demanding money and drugs to return it.
The dealer was actually an informant, who reported the bag's theft to police.
Cerciello and his partner Andrea Varriale left their designated patrol area and showed up at the designated exchange point near the teenagers' hotel before the attack.
US student Finnegan Lee Elder speaks to his lawyer in court on September 16th. Photo: AFP
Defence attorneys have tried to show that police committed multiple errors the night of the incident – alleging lies by Varriale, a falsified police
report and the withholding from the defence of evidence that the drug dealer was a police informant.
They hope these missteps will give credence to the young men's claim that the officers did not show their badges before the attack.
In July, Varriale testified that the two officers approached the young men from the front and showed their badges, although Cerciello's badge was never
subsequently found.
Varriale admitted to lying when he said following the attack that both officers had been armed, as they should have been while on duty, and that he
conspired with a superior officer to lie about it.
In his statement in court, Elder said “many mistakes were made that night. Mine was the biggest.”
“I would like to go back and change things, but I cannot. All I can say is that I feel remorse. I am in pain for the suffering I have caused. I am sorry and very sad for what happened to Cerciello”.
Rosa Maria Esilio hold a photo of Italian Carabiniere Mario Cerciello Rega in court. Photo: AFP


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Amanda Knox reconvicted in Italy in slander case linked to 2007 murder

Amanda Knox was again found guilty of slander on Wednesday, in a retrial in Italy related to her infamous jailing and later acquittal for the 2007 murder of her British roommate.

Amanda Knox reconvicted in Italy in slander case linked to 2007 murder

The American cried in court in Florence as she was sentenced to three years already served for having accused, during police questioning, an innocent bar owner of killing 21-year-old Meredith Kercher.

“I’m very sorry I was not strong enough to have resisted the police pressure,” Knox told the judges.

“I was scared, tricked and mistreated. I gave the testimony in a moment of existential crisis.”

She was 20 when she and her Italian then-boyfriend were arrested for the brutal killing of fellow student Kercher at the girls’ shared home in Perugia.

READ ALSO: ‘I hope to clear my name’: Amanda Knox back in Italy for slander retrial

The murder began a long legal saga where the pair was found guilty, acquitted, found guilty again and finally cleared of all charges in 2015.

But Knox still had a related conviction for slander, for blaming the murder on a local bar owner during initial questioning by police.

In October, Italy’s highest court threw out that conviction on appeal and ordered a retrial, which began earlier this year in Florence in Knox’s absence.

The night she was interrogated was “the worst night of my life… I was in shock, exhausted”, she said on Wednesday.

“The police interrogated me for hours and hours, in a language which I hardly knew, without an official translator or a lawyer”.

“I didn’t know who the killer was… They refused to believe me”, she said.

‘Something so horrible’

Kercher’s half-naked body was found in a pool of blood inside the roommates’ cottage in November 2007. Her throat had been slit and she had suffered multiple stab wounds.

During police questioning, Knox implicated Congolese bar owner Patrick Lumumba, who then spent almost two weeks behind bars before being released without charge.

Knox was convicted of slandering him in 2011 and sentenced to three years already served.

But she said she was yelled at and slapped during the police investigation – claims that prompted a separate charge of slandering police, of which she was cleared in 2016.

Amanda Knox arriving in court in Florence, on June 5th, 2024. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The police had found a message on Knox’s phone they said was proof she and Lumumba were plotting.

“They told me I had witnessed something so horrible that my mind had blocked it out,” Knox said on Wednesday. “One of the officers cuffed me round the head and said ‘remember, remember!’,” she said.

“In the end… I was forced to submit. I was too exhausted and confused to resist.”

The European Court of Human Rights in 2019 ruled that Knox had not been provided with adequate legal representation or a professional interpreter during her interrogation.

That ruling, which found her treatment “compromised the fairness of the proceedings as a whole”, was cited by Italy’s top court last year when it ordered the retrial.

‘Monster of Perugia’

Knox said last October that at the time of Kercher’s murder, Lumumba “was my friend”.

But Lumumba’s lawyer, Carlo Pacelli, described how Knox’s accusation changed his life.

“When he was accused by Amanda he became universally considered the monster of Perugia,” he told reporters outside court.

Knox was hugged by her husband in court – the same one where she was reconvicted of murder in 2014 – as reporters looked on.

Her murder trial attracted global interest, much of it salacious, focusing on prosecutors’ claims that Kercher died as part of a sex game gone wrong.

But Italy’s highest court, when it acquitted Knox and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito once and for all, said there had been “major flaws” in the police investigation.

One person remains convicted of Kercher’s murder — Ivorian Rudy Guede, who was linked to the scene by DNA evidence.

He was sentenced in 2008 to 30 years for murder and sexual assault, his sentence later reduced on appeal to 16 years.

Guede was released early in November 2021.

Now 36 and with two young children, Knox is a journalist, author and campaigner for criminal justice reform.

She first returned to Italy five years ago to address a conference on wrongful convictions, appearing on a panel entitled “Trial By Media”.