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Italian Lawyers Slam Court Review Of NorCal Students Murder Trial

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Multiple professional associations representing Italian criminal defense attorneys slammed a court's written attack on the team that defended two Northern California college students in their trial for the murder of an Italian police officer.

Last week, the court in Rome explained in writing its May 5 convictions and life sentences for 21-year-old San Francisco-resident Finnegan Lee Elder and 20-year-old Mill Valley resident Gabriel Natale-Hjorth. It blasted the defense lawyers for trying to sow doubt about the credibility of the plainclothes partner of Carabinieri Vice Brigadiere Mario Cerciello Rega.

Cerciello Rega, 35, died after being stabbed 11 times on a street near the Americans' hotel in July 2019.

Prosecutors alleged that Elder knifed Cerciello Rega while Natale-Hjorth scuffled with his partner, Officer Andrea Varriale. Both Americans say they acted in self-defense because they believed they were being attacked by thugs.

The officers had been assigned to a plainclothes mission to follow up on an alleged extortion attempt by the defendants, who were vacationing in Rome.

READ MORE: Bay Area Teen's Father Says Son Charged In Italy Cop Death Didn't Know Friend Had Knife

In its written explanation, which Italian courts are required to provide within 90 days of verdicts, the court scathingly attacked the defense lawyers' methods.

In a 364-page document signed by the trial's presiding judge, Marina Finiti, the court contended that the defense had "mocked the conduct of the victims'' and "exercised the right of the defense to the limits of permission and of decency."

The defendants testified that neither officer showed a police badge. Varriale testified that they had identified themselves as Carabinieri officers.

The Union of Italian Penal Chambers, in a statement posted on its web site this week, decried the "unheard-of vehemence" shown by the court toward the Americans' defense lawyers. It said the court's attitude is "certainly extraneous to the most elementary canons of trial legality and of professional correctness" of a magistrate.

The Criminal Chamber of Naples said the Rome court sounded as if it had "decided beforehand" the trial's outcome.

Life imprisonment is Italy's stiffest criminal punishment.

Defense lawyers have said they'll appeal the verdicts.

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