ROME (AP) — Defense lawyers in the case of two American teenagers accused of slaying an Italian police officer in Rome complained Friday that translations of conversations intercepted in the suspects’ jail were so poorly done that the meaning of the words plays out in the prosecution’s favor.
Roberto Capra said in a phone interview that whoever prepared the transcripts for the prosecution also committed the “grave deed” of omitting conversations his client had with family members and a personal U.S. lawyer that were deemed helpful for the defense.
The Turin-based lawyer is on the defense team for Finnegan Lee Elder in the murder trial which begins next week,
Elder and friend Gabriel Natale-Hjorth are accused in the fatal stabbing of the officer in July 2019, a few hours after a drug deal gone bad. Carabinieri officer Mario Cerciello Rega was stabbed 11 times and his fellow plainclothes office assaulted in a scuffle, prosecutors say. They allege Elder knifed Cerciello Rega and Natale-Hjorth assaulted the other officer.
Earlier, the Americans had gone to a rendezvous near their hotel in Rome after allegedly demanding their money back and some cocaine in the wake of what prosecutors say was a botched drug deal. The officers went to meet the pair, following a complaint by the alleged deal’s go-between, to retrieve a backpack with a phone inside that he claimed the Americans had snatched from him.
In one of the translations, published in two Italian newspapers this week, a U.S.-based lawyer, while speaking with the jailed Elder, discussed making motions to the court. But according to the transcript prepared for the prosecution, the lawyer proposed “playing on emotions to win sympathy with the court.”
Capra said given the defense’s objections the trial judge will assign an impartial translator to prepare a new transcript.
“We’ll fight in court to have (translation) errors corrected, but it’s a grave deed” regarding omissions from the transcript. In one such key omission, Elder tells his lawyer he didn’t know Cerciello Rega was a police officer but thought he was some “random criminal guy.”
A prosecutor in the case didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.