‘I’m withholding judgment’: Amanda Knox says two teens accused of killing Italian cop shouldn’t be tried by ‘public opinion’

Amanda Knox, known for her high-profile acquittal in connection to her roommate’s murder in Italy, announced that she’s “withholding judgment” in the case of two American teens accused of killing an Italian officer.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, California teens Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, are accused of killing 35-year-old Carabinieri officer Mario Cerciello Rega in Rome, Italy, on Friday. According to police, CCTV security footage spotted the pair fleeing the scene after Rega was stabbed 11 times.

Knox, who spent four years in an Italian prison after authorities accused of killing her roommate in 2007 murder, took to Twitter to express her thoughts on the teens’ arrest.

Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation acquitted Knox in 2015, but the case made worldwide headlines and created a frenzy of speculation and rumors. Earlier this year, Knox said her case was fostered by “the fantasy of tabloids,” according to BBC.

“All I can say is: I’m withholding judgment. It should be tried in the court of law, not the court of public opinion. In any case, it’s tragic.” 

Earlier this week, U.S. criminal defense attorney Brian Claypool pointed out similarities between Knox’s case and the teens’ arrests. Italian authorities reportedly mistreated Knox and used controversial procedures while interrogating her. Last week, a photo of one the teen suspects surfaced online, showing him blindfolded and handcuffed.

“There is no place in any criminal justice system for a suspect to be blindfolded,” Claypool said, according to CBS News.

“One saving grace for these teenagers in Italy is, much like what happened with Amanda Knox, if they are found guilty, they will have an opportunity to have an appeal of the entire facts that led to a decision of guilt.”

Both teens, currently detained at the Regina Coeli prison, admitted they were in an altercation with Rega, according to the New York Times.

Finnegan Elder and Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth
Finnegan Elder (L) and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth [Police Handout]
Italian police said the incident began when the suspects bought drugs from an unknown man on Friday. Another man, identified as Sergio Brugiatelli, reportedly led the “blonde youth,” identified as Natale-Hjorth, to a drug dealer. Elder sat on a bench close to Brugiatelli’s backpack and waited for his friend to return.

The teens later reportedly claimed the drugs “weren’t real.” In turn, Elder allegedly grabbed Brugiatelli’s backpack with his cellphone inside and fled. When the man called his phone, one of the teens answered and demanded “100 euros and a gram of cocaine” for the return of the backpack.

The pair reportedly arranged to meet Brugiatelli and exchange the backpack for money and drugs, but unbeknownst to them, the man called the police and reported the alleged theft. When the suspects showed up at the arranged meeting place, Rega was there with the backpack, along with his partner, officer Andrea Varriale.

A fight apparently broke out and the officer was left with multiple, fatal stab wounds.

Elder, who appeared in court on Monday, told Italian Judge Chiara Gallo that Rega was strangling him and he acted in self-defense. The teen also reportedly said he didn’t know Rega was an officer and thought he was Brugiatelli’s friend.

Elder said Rega never identified himself but Varriale said both teens attacked them almost immediately. Further, authorities said they didn’t see any injuries on Elder or any evidence that he had been strangled.

“But the pair, even before we could carry out any kind of check, attacked us physically,” Varriale reportedly said.

Natale-Hjorth reportedly claimed he didn’t see his friend stab Rega. He said he returned to the hotel and took a nap, and Elder later told him he used a knife on the officer when he woke up.

Both suspects were charged with murder and denied bond. They could face life in prison if convicted.

Meanwhile, Rega was laid to rest on Monday in the same church he got married at. The newlywed had been married a little over a month before the tragedy occurred. The crowd of mourners grew larger than the church could accommodate. Numerous people lined up outside the church to mourn the beloved officer.

The story continues to develop. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.

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[Feature Photo: Amanda Knox via AP//Antonio Calanni]