A PAIR of US students who stabbed an Italian police officer to death with a Rambo knife in a botched drugs sting have been jailed for life.
Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale Hjorth, 20, must serve Italy’s stiffest sentence of at least 21 years behind bars for killing Italian cop Mario Cerciello Rega in 2019.
The 35-year-old officer had recently returned from his honeymoon when he was stabbed to death in a scuffle with the pals after a bungled drug deal.
Elder had admitted to stabbing Rega 11 times in the attack on July 26, 2019, but argued he acted in self-defence, believing the cop was a thug.
His friend Natale-Hjorth, then 18, was convicted of helping him conceal the weapon after the pair hid the seven-inch Rambo knife in a concealed panel in their hotel room.
Under Italian law, accomplices can also be charged with murder.
Elder and Natale-Hjorth were indicted on charges of homicide, attempted extortion, assault, resisting a public official and carrying an attack-style knife without just cause.
The schoolfriends from California were on holiday in Rome when they tried to buy cocaine in the Trastevere area, near Vatican City.
Investigators said a man named Sergio Brugiatelli helped the pair to find a dealer.
But the students were allegedly sold crushed aspirin instead of drugs.
After stealing the middleman’s rucksack, demanding their money back and a gram of cocaine in exchange, Mr Brugiatelli rang cops.
Undercover officers Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale, arrived on the scene before the fight broke out – with the US students claiming the cops never identified themselves.
Speaking to the court in March, Elder said he stabbed Rega because he feared he was being attacked by a “thug”, reported the BBC.
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“As soon as I felt his hands squeezing my neck, I instinctively took my knife and hit him a few times in an effort to get him off me,” he said.
Last month prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta argued that the pair should be given life sentences, which she described as “a just penalty”.
Cerciello Rega’s widow, Rosa Maria Esilio, sat in the front row during the trial clutching a photo of her husband, who was killed just 43 days after the couple had got married.