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Family of U.S. teen held in Italian officer's killing says facts 'unfairly misrepresented'

"Finn is trying to stay hopeful but has suffered from severe depression since the incident," said the family of Finnegan Lee Elder, one of two U.S. teens held in the slaying.
Image: Rome murder case American suspects
Finnegan Lee Elder, left, and Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth in their hotel room in Rome. The two American teenagers were jailed in Rome as authorities carry out a murder investigation in the killing of Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega, 35.Polizia di Stato

ROME — The lawyer for one of two American teenagers being held in the slaying of an Italian police officer said Saturday that he has dropped a request for his client to be released.

Finnegan Lee Elder's lawyer, Renato Borzone, said in a statement that the defense still needs more time to get a full picture of what happened. He added that he is still working to clarify "key passages" in the investigation.

Elder and his friend, Gabriel Natale-Hjorth who is also in custody, were jailed in Rome in July as authorities investigate their alleged roles in the fatal stabbing of Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega. Italian prosecutors say Elder confessed knifing the officer during a scuffle.

A hearing on Natale-Hjorth's petition for release will be held on Sept. 16.

Image: Roberto Capra
Roberto Capra, lawyer of Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, talks to reporters as he leaves the Meridien hotel on Aug. 6, 2019.Andrew Medichini / AP file

In a family statement issued on Friday, Elder's mother Leah said "she has been grateful to have been able to see her son" in Rome in the past two days and sent her thoughts to Cerciello Rega's family.

"Finn is trying to stay hopeful but has suffered from severe depression since the incident," the family said. "While in prison he has seen the way the media has portrayed him and the circumstances of the case and it has been difficult to hear the facts unfairly misrepresented."

Cerciello Rega was stabbed to death while he was investigating with a colleague an alleged drug deal gone wrong involving the two teens.

Prosecutors contend that Elder stabbed Cerciello Rega while Natale-Hjorth scuffled with the officer's partner during a rendezvous organized by the teens to obtain money and cocaine in exchange for a backpack they had snatched.

The backpack belonged to an Italian man suspected of being an intermediary in the drug deal, who called the Carabinieri asking them to intervene.

Both teens have told investigators that they didn't know that the two officers were Carabinieri as they were in plainclothes and didn't identify themselves. But their version contradicts that of Cerciello Rega's partner, who said they both showed their badges when they confronted the teens.

Elder's U.S. attorneys said in a separate statement Friday that "the boys' version of what happened that night has gained support from the objective incident and has become the only version that makes sense."