The father of one of the two American teenagers accused over the murder of an Italian police officer is returning to the US, but his fight is not over.
Ethan Elder is flying back to the US Saturday after visiting his son Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, in an Italian prison, according to family friend and US criminal defense attorney Craig Peters, who made the trip with him.
“Finnegan’s Italian defense attorneys will remain on the case. Our quest for the truth of the events of that night to be made public is moving full steam ahead,” Peters told CNN.
Elder and Gabriel Natale Hjorth, 18, are both from San Francisco, but were vacationing together in Rome when police say they took part in last week’s assault on Carabinieri officer Mario Cerciello Rega. The officer was stabbed eight times as he tried to recover a stolen backpack from the two, according to police.
Police allege that both confessed to taking part in the assault, with Elder confessing to killing Rega. The two have yet to be indicted on the charges.
Italian authorities have released accounts of what they say took place in the Prati neighborhood, but Ethan Elder is hoping that prosecutors will show video of the incident to “show what actually happened.”
The story authorities are telling
The 24 hours before the murder, as described in a preliminary evidentiary ruling, went from a common drug deal, to theft, to extortion and finally to Rega’s death.
On July 25 around 11:30 p.m., Hjorth and Elder allegedly approached Sergio Brugiatelli and his friend in the Piazza Trilussa looking for 80 euros worth of cocaine.
Brugiatelli told the young men that he didn’t have any, but he could get in touch with a dealer. He and Hjorth went to buy the drugs while Elder and the friend waited in a piazza with Brugiatelli’s bike and backpack.
Hjorth exchanged the money for a roll of foil paper, and then Brugiatelli spotted two people he recognized as police, according to Brugiatelli’s testimony. He and Hjorth took off in different directions.
By the time Brugiatelli made it back to the piazza, Elder had run off with his backpack and his phone inside it, Brugiatelli said.
Brugiatelli called his phone to hear a foreign voice telling him that if he wanted his backpack returned, he should bring a gram of cocaine and 100 euros. He called the police and together they arranged an undercover meeting with the American teens to make the exchange.
The teens, the officers and Brugiatelli all converged near the Meridien Hotel around 2:48 a.m. on Friday. Officers Mario Cerciello Rega and Andrea Varriale, who were in plain clothes, told Brugiatelli to wait behind as they met Elder and Hjorth.
When the two identified themselves to the teens as officers, a brawl broke out. Varriale said one of the two men attacked him and he could see his partner, Rega, in a scuffle with the other.
“Stop, we are carabinieri. Enough!” Varriale said he heard Rega shout. Both young men ran off and Varriale found his partner bleeding from his left side and chest.
“They’ve stabbed me,” Rega said, according to Varriale.
Rega’s funeral was held in the same church where he was married less than two months before his killing.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right interior minister, expressed his condolences over the officer’s death. “Mario, a police officer, a hero, a boy with all his life ahead of him, who had been married for just 40 days,” he wrote on Twitter. “How much sadness, how much anger. A prayer, a hug to his loved ones.”
Police arrested Hjorth and Elder inside their hotel room, where they say they found a seven-inch knife and the clothes they are alleged to have worn during the crime hidden behind a ceiling panel.
The two were ready to leave the country when they were brought in for interrogation, police said.
CNN’s Dan Simon, Valentina DiDonato, Tara John and Sara Dean contributed to this report.