Photo: Associated Press
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The family of Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, one of two Bay Area teens accused in the murder of a Carabinieri officer in Rome, continues to insist that, although he was present at the crime scene, he had nothing to do with the slaying.
“He was there, he made a mistake, but he’s not an assassin,” father Fabrizio Natale told Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Tuesday.
Natale says, like the rest of the world, he found out his son was a suspect in a murder inquiry when he saw it on television. When Natale-Hjorth’s photo was shown on a news broadcast, Natale says his brother rushed to the hotel where the teen was staying and discovered he was in police custody.
Natale, who was born in Italy but immigrated to the United States as a boy, returns to Italy every summer with his family. His son has dual citizenship.
According to police, Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Natale-Hjorth, 18, were attempting to extort a local drug dealer when they were approached by police officer Mario Cerciello Rega and his partner. Court documents indicate police believe Elder stabbed Cerciello Rega 11 times, killing him, while Natale-Hjorth assaulted the other officer. In Italian law, anyone involved in a murder can be charged with the crime, even if they did not do the killing themselves.
In the Corriere della Sera interview, Natale says the teens, who graduated from Tamalpais High in Mill Valley last year, weren’t close friends; they happened to meet up in Rome after exchanging messages on social media. He also claims his son does not use drugs; police say the men were attempting to buy cocaine from a dealer when the deal took a turn. They weren’t given the cocaine they supposedly paid for, police said, and so they stole a backpack belonging to an alleged intermediary.
Prosecutors say that in exchange for a gram of cocaine and 100 euros, they promised to return the backpack. When they showed up for the exchange around 2:30 a.m. on July 26, police say they immediately attacked the plainclothes police officers.
Police claim they later found a military-style knife in the drop-ceiling of the hotel room where the teens were staying.
Natale-Hjorth and Elder are both being held at Regina Coeli prison in Rome, although they have not yet been charged. Unlike in the United States, where prosecutors must decide to charge suspects within a set period of time, charges in Italy are laid out after the criminal investigation is complete. Prosecutors in this case are still completing the investigation.
Lawyers for the men are petitioning for their release and also making a plea for surveillance video of the altercation.
The Daily Beast reported over the weekend that CCTV from two local businesses was either shut off or broken, although there may be witnesses that saw or heard something that night.
Katie Dowd is an SFGATE Senior Digital Editor. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @katiedowd
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