By Nadeem Badshah

A Rome prosecutor has called for two American students accused of murdering an Italian police officer to be sentenced to life in prison.

In her indictment, prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta told a court on Saturday that the pair, Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 19, should also be put in solitary confinement during the day.

Italian prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta  has asked for life sentences for Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, (left) and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20 (right) for stabbing death of Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega to death in 2019

Elder and Natale-Hjorth are accused of the fatal stabbing of Mario Cerciello Rega on a street in central Rome in July 2019.

Calabretta described Cerciello Rega, who was 35, as a “good man” who was killed in a “disproportionate and deadly attack”.

Cerciello Rega was murdered and his colleague, Andrea Varriale, injured after the officers, both in plainclothes, were confronted by Elder and Natale-Hjorth in the Prati district of Rome as they attempted to investigate a bag snatch.

Defendants Natale-Hjorth (left) and Finnegan Lee Elder listen to Prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta speech during a hearing in the murder trial

Earlier in the evening, Elder and Natale-Hjorth, who were in the Italian capital on holiday, had tried to buy cocaine in Trastevere, a popular nightlife area. A middleman took them to a drug dealer, who sold them aspirin instead. In retaliation, they snatched the middleman’s bag, which contained his mobile phone, and fled before allegedly demanding a cash ransom and cocaine to return the bag.

The middleman was able to contact the pair after calling his phone, and arranged to meet them in the Prati district. But he had also contacted the police after reporting the theft, and so the two officers went to the site.

The defendants, both from California, said they mistook the officers for criminals associated with the middleman.

The pair fled the scene and the next day were traced to a hotel, where police found the 18cm (7in) combat knife that was used to stab Cerciello Rega 11 times. Elder told police he had brought the knife in a suitcase from the US.

Elder and Natale-Hjorth have been in a Rome prison since their arrest.

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