Italian police officer stabbed with 'much violence,' autopsy report says

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(ROME) -- An Italian police officer who was allegedly killed during a confrontation with two American teenagers was stabbed with "much violence," some wounds so deep that the base of the 7-inch blade left marks on his skin, according to the autopsy report obtained by ABC News.

Mario Cerciello Rega, a 35-year-old deputy brigadier in Italy's Carabinieri paramilitary police force, bled to death after being stabbed 11 times on the streets of Rome in the early morning hours of July 26. The wounds penetrated major organs, including both lungs. He was declared dead minutes after being taken to a local hospital, with his clothes drenched in blood, according to the autopsy report conducted by an Italian court-appointed coroner.

Cerciello Rega had just returned to duty from his honeymoon. He had married his wife, Rosa Maria Esilio, in his hometown of Somma Vesuviana six weeks before. His funeral was held in the same church as his wedding.

"The widow is devastated and in deep sorrow," Esilio's attorney, Massimo Ferrandino, told ABC News in a statement late Thursday.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, remain jailed in Italy's capital on suspicion of attempted extortion and aggravated murder in connection to the fatal stabbing as well as a botched drug deal.

Investigators have alleged that Elder and Natale-Hjorth, who are both U.S. citizens and live in California, were trying to buy drugs in Rome but were sold a fake substance, an Italian police spokesman told ABC News.

The pair are accused of then robbing a man who had directed them to the drug dealer in the first place, stealing his backpack and demanding he pay them 100 euros and a gram of cocaine to get it back. The man agreed but, unbeknownst to Elder and Natale-Hjorth, he also contacted authorities, according to the police spokesman.

Cerciello Rega responded to the call with his partner at around 3 a.m. local time on July 26. Both officers were in plainclothes when they confronted the suspects on a street corner near an upscale hotel in Rome where the teens were staying.

A scuffle ensued and Elder allegedly stabbed Cerciello Rega, while Natale-Hjorth allegedly punched the officer's partner repeatedly, according to police reports that were made public. Elder allegedly used a 7-inch fix-blade combat knife during the four-minute encounter, according to a court document leaked to media outlets and obtained by ABC News.

Police say Elder and Natale-Hjorth were captured on surveillance video fleeing the scene with the stolen backpack. The duo were tracked down at their hotel, a block away from the scene and near Rome's Tiber River, police said.

Investigators also claim that they discovered a knife believed to be the murder weapon and blood-soaked clothes hidden in the ceiling of the teens' hotel room, police said.

Elder and Natale-Hjorth were questioned by police for hours and, when "faced with overwhelming evidence, they confessed," according to the Provincial Command of Rome.

Italian newspapers later published a leaked photo of what appears to be Natale-Hjorth blindfolded and handcuffed while in custody, prompting questions about the pair's confessions. It is illegal to blindfold a suspect in Italy, and police and prosecutors are carrying out separate investigations into the blindfolding.

Elder claimed he allegedly stabbed Ceriello Rega in self-defense, telling police he "feared for his life," according to the court document obtained by ABC News.

Gen. Francesco Gargaro, the commander of the Carabinieri in Italy's capital, told reporters that Cerciello Rega had "forgotten his gun" that fateful night, but there was still "no time" for the policemen to react and the suspects then took off.

Prosecutors say Cerciello Rega's partner, Andrea Varriale, is now under investigation for failing to bring his service weapon when responding to the incident. Varriale initially told his supervisors that he did have his gun.

Cerciello Rega's stab wounds were compatible with those that would come from the blade seized by police during the investigation, according to the autopsy report.

Since there were no frontal injuries on the officer's thorax and abdomen, the coroner concluded Cerciello Rega was standing very close to the knife-wielding individual, who likely stabbed him by moving his arm from outside toward the officer. Nearly all of the stab wounds were oblique, some slightly more horizontal and none were vertical, according to the autopsy report.

There were also no grabbing injuries on Cerciello Rega's body and only one wound which could be classified as a defense wound, caused by opposing an upper arm or stopping a blow, according to the report.

Elder's defense attorney, Craig Peters, told San Francisco ABC station KGO-TV that the autopsy contradicts police's allegation that the teens attacked the officers first.

"The autopsy stab wounds don't support an immediate attack," Peters said. "There's no stab wounds on the front of Ciercello's body."

The lawyer alleges the teens had agreed to meet up with the man whose backpack they stole so they could exchange it for the money they lost in the botched deal. They were worried about getting "jumped" by the man's friends during the meetup, which was why Elder was carrying a knife, Peters said.

"They thought that the person they were going to be meeting up with was part of a gang or mobs or a mafia guy," Peters told KGO-TV.

The lawyer also questioned the way Cerciello Rega and his partner responded to the incident, with no backup and no weapons, and whether it was in violation of departmental policy. Peters, citing footage from an ATM surveillance camera, also alleges the officers came up behind the teens and "jumped them" without ever showing their badges.

"I do know this," Peters told KGO-TV, "if they had done it properly, Cerciello Rega would be alive today. Cerciello Rega would absolutely be alive today had they done this sting operation properly."

When asked for comment, the attorney for Cerciello Rega's wife said in a statement, “We will make our final evaluation when the investigation is over, we cannot rely on the press to acquire information that may not even correspond to the investigators' findings. I read these details only from the newspapers, we have no access to investigative acts like the defense lawyers."

"I only know that there is a person who was savagely killed with 11 stab wounds, we will see how this trial will end," the attorney added. "We hope that it will start soon and, above all, will be speedy."

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