More than 4,875,000 pageviews from 160 countries


Saturday, March 14, 2020

When in Rome: The Finnegan Lee Elder Murder Case

     In 2016, Finnegan Lee Elder lived with his parents in Mill Valley, California, an upscale suburban community in the San Francisco Bay Area. The 16-year-old was a junior at the $19,000 a year Sacred Heart Preparatory School in San Francisco's Cathedral Hill neighborhood.

     In October 2016, Elder, in a pre-arraigned fight with a fellow member of his school's football team, hurt his opponent when the teen struck his head on the pavement. The injured youth had to be placed into an induced coma. A local prosecutor charged Finnegan Elder with assault. (The disposition of the case, not a matter of public record, was resolved in juvenile court. Finnegan Elder ended up graduating from Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley.)

     In July 2019, Elder, now a student at Santa Barbara City College, was vacationing in Rome, Italy with his childhood friend, Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth. The young men were staying at Rome's Le Meridien Visconti Hotel.

     At eleven o'clock on the night of July 25, 2019, Elder and Natale-Hjorth were in the Trastevere section of the city, a place popular with tourists and young people. The young Americans were looking for 80 euros worth of cocaine. It was there they met, at 11:30, an Italian man named Sergio Brugiatelli and Brugiatelli's associate. Brugiatelli, a police drug informant, took the cocaine money and departed on foot to acquire the drug, leaving his associate behind with the college students. He also left behind his bicycle and his backpack that contained his cellphone.

     A short time later, when Brugliatelli returned, he handed Finnegan Elder a bag containing ground up aspirin. This led to a heated argument that ended when the two college students grabbed Mr. Brugliatelli's backpack and fled.

     Back at the Le Meridien Visconti Hotel, Finnegan Elder took a call made by Brugliatelli to the cellphone still in his backpack. The drug snitch and Elder agreed to meet on the street near the hotel where Brugliatelli would return the drug money in exchange for his backpack and phone.

     Sergio Brugliatelli had no intention of meeting Elder and Natale-Hjorth in the early morning hours on the deserted street near the college students' hotel. Instead, he reported the fraudulent drug transaction and the theft of his backpack to the authorities who dispatched two plain-clothed Carabinieri officers with Italy's military police. The officers showed up at the meeting site to question the two students from America. Neither officer was armed.

     At some point after the police officers confronted the students, Finnegan Elder pulled a serrated-edged combat knife with a 7-inch blade and stabbed the 35-year-old police officer, Cerciello Rega, eleven times. Rega, bleeding profusely, collapsed to the street as Natale-Hjorth scuffled with Rega's partner, Anorea Varriale.

     Following the knife attack, Finnegan and Natale-Hjorth fled the scene while officer Varriale attended to his dying partner. Officer Rega died a few hours later at a local hospital.

     Back at the hotel, Finnegan Elder cleaned off the knife he had brought in his luggage from California. Natale-Hjorth hid the weapon in a hotel room ceiling panel.

     Later that Friday, Italian police officers arrested Elder and Natale-Hjorth at their hotel. They were both charged with the murder of officer Cerciello Rega. The American college students were held without bail at Rome's Regina Coeli Prison.

     When interrogated, Finnegan Elder, in admitting stabbing officer Rega, claimed self defense. He said that he believed the two officers were thugs sent by Sergio Brugiatelli. Natale-Hjorth told his interrogators he had no idea his travel companion had brought a knife to Italy.

     If convicted as charged, both defendants faced life sentences. (Italy does not have the death penalty.)

     The Elder/Natale-Hjorth murder trial got underway on February 26, 2020 in Rome, Italy. At this point, due to media coverage of the case, public opinion was strongly against the defendants. Two judges presided over the trail that included a panel of six jurors. Finnegan Elder's parents were in the courtroom and planned to stay in Italy for the duration of the trial. The first few days of the proceeding were taken up with procedural issues.

     On March 9, 2020, the judges postponed the Elder/Natale-Hjorth murder trial for five weeks due to the Coronavirus crisis in the country.

No comments:

Post a Comment