One of the accused of lying on the stand is Constantin Saracila, a homeless man who said he saw Finnegan Elder of San Francisco and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth of Marin County talking to two officers of the Carabinieri police force. Italian paramilitary, in front of the Mortal Struggle: “After a brief interview, one of the two became aggressive. So as not to be seen, I hid and fell asleep. This reinforced the prosecution’s assertion that the officers, Mario Cerciello Rega and Andrea Varriale, identified themselves as law enforcement before the deadly altercation.
The Americans testified that the officers rushed over and grabbed them without identifying themselves as police officers. Cerciello Rega and Varriale were not wearing police uniforms and were not carrying their police ID, service weapons or handcuffs at the time. The defense stressed that the commander of a nearby rifle post had established that Saracila was not present at the scene.
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Also charged with perjury: Ahmed Tamer, a parking attendant who witnessed the original drug deal, and Italo Pompei, a convicted drug dealer who admitted to giving Natale-Hjorth a crushed over-the-counter pain reliever instead of cocaine. The two men did not disclose during the trial that they had acted as informants for the Carabinieri before the night of the deadly altercation.
Elder and Natale-Hjorth were on vacation in Rome when Natale-Hjorth tried to buy cocaine. When the case was interrupted by the police, the Americans took the backpack of Sergio Brugatelli who had introduced the students to the dealer. Later that night, Natale-Hjorth arranged to return the backpack if Brugatelli returned his money, but Brugatelli called the police. Americans expected only Brugatelli to attend the meeting after 3 a.m. on a street corner in Rome. They testified that Cerciello Rega and Varriale did not identify themselves as police officers until the police caught the Americans. Natale-Hjorth managed to pull away from Varriale, but Cerciello Rega passed Elder by 100 pounds. and tackled him to the ground on his back. Elder took out a US Marine style combat knife from his sweatshirt and stabbed Cerciello Rega eleven times. Elder testified that he feared for his life and believed he was attacked by a thug sent by the drug dealer.
Elder and Natale-Hjorth are both appealing their murder and life sentences; the hearings have not been scheduled but are expected for next February or March. Finnegan Elder’s Italian attorney, Roberto Capra, told I-Team’s Dan Noyes he believes the perjury charges for the three prosecution witnesses “could have a positive impact. Perjury charges may demonstrate what Elder’s defense has always maintained: that many people involved in this story lied and that the truth has yet to be clarified. “
Sergio Brugatelli will not testify on appeal; he died of a stroke on September 26 at his home in Portuense. He was 49 years old.
WATCH THE FULL DOCUMENTARY: “32 seconds: a deadly night in Rome”
Dan Noyes of the ABC7 News I-Team reported on the case in an hour-long documentary titled “32 Seconds: A Deadly Night in Rome”. You can stream it right now in the featured row of our ABC7 Bay Area smart TV app on Roku, Amazon Fire, Android TV, and Apple TV. Information on downloading the application here.
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