Coronavirus fears HALT trial in Rome for two American students who murdered the Italian police officer
The trial of two American students accused of the fatal stabbing of an Italian police officer during a failed drug deal was dramatically stopped today for fear that the young would be exposed to the deadly corona virus.
Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth would appear in court in Rome to find out what evidence would be presented to the jury for charges of murdering newly-married officer Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, last July.
But Judge Marina Finiti postponed the hearing for five weeks so that Elder 20 and Natale-Hjorth 19 are not at risk of exposure to the deadly virus that destroyed Italy – 366 deaths, more than 7,500 infections and 16 million causes – a quarter of the population – to be placed in quarantine.
The lawsuit in Rome has stopped for American students Gabriel Natale Hjorth (left) and Finnegan Lee Elder (right) because of the fear of coronavirus
The court in Piazzale Clodio seems empty due to the coronavirus situation. The two Americans are accused of killing the Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega in Rome
Mario Cerciello Rega, who had just returned from his honeymoon, suffered 11 stab wounds and later died in hospital from his injuries
The judge had ordered that young people appear via a video link, so that they do not run the risk of being exposed to the virus by coming to the courthouse in the center of Rome.
Prison authorities took it upon themselves to move the couple to the vast Rebibbia prison in Rome, because the smaller prison of Regina Coeli where they are being held has no film equipment.
The funeral of Brig. Gen. Cerciello Rega was held in the same church where he had been married a few months earlier
But Judge Finiti had not been informed that the students should be taken to the larger prison, where they would run a high risk of being exposed to the corona virus.
She said to the court: “An emergency situation is going on. I want this to be stopped.
“If the prison authorities have to move them to Rebibbia [prison] they might as well have come here.
“It is because of their safety, our safety and the safety of all participants in the proceedings that I postpone this hearing.”
Judge Finiti will suspend the hearing until April 17, when the trial will resume.
In an official notification, she decided: “Given the emergency, the President postponed this hearing to another date.”
But she added, “But this can all change with the development of this coronavirus emergency.”
During the brief hearing, Judge Finiti urged the legal teams to take emergency measures to stop the virus from spreading a meter apart and not shaking hands and kissing, contrary to Italian tradition.
The students’ parents, Ethan and Leah Elder and Fabrizio Natale and Heidi Hjorth, had decided not to attend the hearing for fear that they might have to go isolated on their return to their homes in San Francisco, DailyMail.com learned.
The widow of Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, Mario Rosaria Esilio, was present at the short hearing.
Finnegan Lee Elder, 20, (left) and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 19, (right) are accused of stabbing deputy brigadier general Mario Cerciello Rega in Rome
Rosa Maria Esilio, the widow of carabinieri Mario Cerciello Rega, comes with lawyers and family members from the judicial area in Piazzale Clodio after hearing the trial for the murder of her husband
During the brief hearing, the judge urged the legal teams to stand one meter apart and not shake hands and kiss, contrary to Italian tradition
Elder and Natale-Hjorth, who were on vacation in Rome at the time, are sentenced to life imprisonment for being found guilty of the murder of Carabinieri officer Cerciello Rega.
The couple is also charged with carrying a knife, resisting arrest and attempting extortion.
The murder in July last year caused a national protest.
The case has been compared to that of Amanda Knox, the American student who was convicted in November 2007 and later acquitted of the murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Umbria.
Meanwhile, riots have broken out in prisons all over Italy – with six prisoners killed in Modena prison on the weekend – after authorities suspended visits and feared they would be left to the virus amid prisoners.
Elder admitted that he stabbed Cerciello with a 7-inch serrated cutter that he had stored in his sweatshirt, but told the investigators that he thought he and his friend were being hit by drug dealers.
The elder’s legal team claims that their client acted elder in self-defense when he stabbed officer Rega.
Hundreds of people appeared to honor Cerciello Rega outside a chapel in Rome
The lawyers of Natale-Hjorth try to distance their client from elder and have him assessed separately because of his part in the events.
Both boys claim that their confessions for the murder were signed under duress and after hours of bullying and intimidation.
Photos and films from Natale-Hjorth that were blindly requested during the hours after their arrests were leaked to Italian media.
Their lawyers have called for a film from a bank security camera overlooking the murder scene seized by police investigators to be made public because it supports the case of self-defense of their clients.
Prosecutors claim that the film has no interest in the case. Rega’s death caused a stir throughout Italy.