• Two American tourists were found guilty of murder and four other charges in Italy
  • An Italian jury sentenced both to life in prison for killing police officer Mario Cerciello Rega in 2019
  • The defense lawyers of the American college students said they plan to appeal the verdicts

Two friends from Mill Valley, California, have been sentenced to life in prison after they were found guilty of murdering a Rome police officer while touring Europe in 2019.

An Italian jury that consisted of two judges and six civilians found 21-year-old Finnegan Lee Elder and 20-year-old Gabriel Natale-Hjorth guilty of murder, the Associated Press reported. Presiding Judge Marina Finiti said the jury also found the former schoolmates guilty of extortion, assault, resisting a public official and carrying an attack-style knife without just cause.

Elder, who was 19 at the time of the killing, had admitted to stabbing Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, in the early hours of July 26, 2019, while Natale-Hjorth was fighting another police officer, according to Reuters.

Police said Cerciello Rega, an officer from the country's Carabinieri gendarmerie, was unarmed during the encounter and was stabbed 11 times by Elder with a seven-inch blade he had brought to Europe.

The pair said in a 2020 trial that they had acted only in self-defense after they thought the two policemen, who were not wearing their uniforms at the time, were thugs out to get them after a failed attempt to buy drugs from another person. But Andrea Varriale, the second policeman, said the two officers clearly identified themselves to the two tourists.

The court dismissed the two Americans' testimonies and handed them Italy's most severe criminal punishment. Criminals serving life terms can be eligible for parole after 21 years in jail if they have a record of good behavior.

Natale-Hjorth, who has Italian citizenship as well as U.S. citizenship, initially denied any involvement in the killing, additionally telling police he was unaware that Elder had brought a knife to the meeting. Authorities, however, found his fingerprints on a panel in the ceiling of their hotel room where the blade had been concealed.

Under Italian law, an accomplice in an alleged murder can also be charged with murder without materially doing the slaying, as per the Associated Press.

One of Elder's lawyers, Renato Borzone, called the verdicts "a disgrace for Italy."

According to Reuters, the defense lawyers for both Americans immediately announced they would appeal the verdicts.

Elder and Natale-Hjorth have the right to two appeals before their sentences become definitive.

Representation. Elder had admitted to stabbing Mario Cerciello Rega, an officer from Italy's Carabinieri gerndarmerie. Pixabay