Wednesday 21 August 2019

US teenager held over murder of policeman in Rome ‘illegally blindfolded’

Italian newspapers published a photo of Gabriel Natale-Hjorth blindfolded with what appeared to be a scarf.

Police commander Sandro Ottaviani stands near flowers left in front of the Carabinieri station where Mario Cerciello Rega was based (Andrew Medichini/AP)
Police commander Sandro Ottaviani stands near flowers left in front of the Carabinieri station where Mario Cerciello Rega was based (Andrew Medichini/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

An Italian police commander said an American teenager who is under investigation for the murder of a police officer in Rome was “illegally blindfolded” briefly before his interrogation.

Carabinieri provincial commander Francesco Gargaro said 18-year-old Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth was blindfolded “for a very few minutes, four or five” on Friday before he was questioned about the fatal stabbing of Mario Cerciello Rega.

Italian newspapers published a photo of Natale-Hjorth blindfolded with what appeared to be a scarf and with his arms handcuffed behind his back in a room at a police station.

He and another US teenager, Finnegan Lee Elder, 18 remain in custody as suspects in the killing.

Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth (Italian Carabinieri/AP)

Mr Cerciello Rega was stabbed eight times on a street close to the teenager’s hotel in Rome.

In the detention order, Elder is described as being suspected of repeatedly stabbing the 35-year-old policeman several times on Friday.

Investigators said Mr Cerciello Rega, along with a fellow Carabinieri officer, were both in plain clothes when they confronted two Americans in the wake of a failed drug deal.

Natale-Hjorth was described in the document as attacking Mr Cerciello Rega’s partner repeatedly with his bare hands. The other officer, who was not seriously injured, has been described as a key witness in the investigation.

Under Italian law, people participating in a killing, without actually carrying it out, risk also being charged with murder.

Mario Cerciello Rega was stabbed several times during the incident on Friday (AP)

Both suspects are also being investigated for attempted extortion connected to the alleged drug deal.

Elder’s lawyer, Francesco Codini, told reporters that his client had exercised his right not to respond to questions during a detention hearing on Saturday in the Rome jail where the two teenagers are being held.

Natale Hjorth’s lawyer did not speak to reporters waiting outside the jail after the hearing.

An unnamed Italian investigator claimed the pair had snatched the bag of a drug dealer in Rome after the man apparently gave them a different substance instead of the cocaine they were seeking.

Elder’s lawyer Francesco Codini, centre, spoke to waiting to reporters following a hearing in the case in Rome (Dolores Hinckley/AP)

The Carabinieri said the Americans demanded a 100 euro (£90) ransom and a gram of cocaine to return the stolen bag.

The alleged dealer called police, saying he had arranged a meeting with the thieves to get his bag back.

Police say there was a scuffle at the rendezvous site and the policeman was stabbed eight times, dying shortly afterwards in hospital.

The Carabinieri said video surveillance cameras and witnesses allowed them to quickly identify the two Americans and find them in a hotel near the scene of the killing.

In a search, the Carabinieri said they found a long knife, possibly the one used to attack Mr Cerciello Rega.

PA Media

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