(CN) – The fathers of two American teenagers jailed in Italy over the death of a police officer arrived in Rome to support them, with one saying his son didn’t know his friend had the 7-inch, military-style knife said to have been used in the stabbing.
The California teenagers were taken into police custody following the stabbing death of a member of the Carabinieri, a military police force.
Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was killed early Friday morning while undercover, investigating the teenage tourists for alleged theft and extortion during a drug deal gone bad.
Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, who has reportedly confessed to stabbing Rega 11 times, told investigators that he thought Rega was strangling him and he was unaware Rega was a police officer, saying he acted in self-defense.
Judge Chiara Gallo, who upheld the teens’ detainment, reportedly found that there were no marks on Elder’s neck.
Elder’s 18-year-old friend, Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, is also in custody in connection with the stabbing. Both have been charged with aggravated homicide.
Elder’s father, Ethan Elder, and Natale-Hjorth’s father, Fabrizio Natale, arrived in Italy on Wednesday.
Natale told the Corriere Della Sera newspaper that his son “didn’t know his friend was armed” and only found out after his arrest that Rega died.
“I share the pain of the officer’s family. But I am convinced my son is innocent,” Natale said.
Natale said he brought his son a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Old Man and the Sea.” He wasn’t allowed to give Natale-Hjorth an Italian-English dictionary because it was hardcover and the corners were considered unsafe, the Corriere Della Sera reported.
The Elder family said in a statement that they are continuing to gather factors about the case through legal representatives.
“Meanwhile, we are grateful that he has been provided medical care. There is much we do not know yet,” they said.
According to the Italian authorities, the Americans attempted to purchase cocaine from Sergio Brugiatelli, which turned out to be crushed aspirin. In retaliation, they allegedly stole his backpack and agreed to return it for 100 euros and a gram of cocaine. Brugiatelli reported the attempted extortion to the police.
Rega and another undercover police officer, Andrea Varriale, were assigned to the case. The officers arranged to meet up with Elder and Natale-Hjorth under the guise of exchanging the backpack and authorities say they were immediately attacked by the pair.
Under Italian law, both Elder and Natale-Hjorth can be prosecuted even though investigators say Elder was the one who committed the stabbing.
Natale-Hjorth is American-Italian and had invited Elder to travel with him to visit family friends. It was Elder’s first trip abroad.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.