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Officer Details Killing of Police Partner in Trial of Americans in Rome

A fight immediately ensued, and he began rolling around on the ground with Mr. Natale Hjorth, “clumsily,” he said. Then, he said, “I heard Mario scream, ‘Stop, stop, Carabinieri,’ with a voice that wasn’t his own,” so he let the teenager go and attended to his partner.

Prosecutors played the anguished telephone call Officer Varriale made for an ambulance as Brigadier Cerciello Rega lay dying. His widow, Rosa Maria Ersilia, wept, clutching a laminated photo of her dead husband in uniform. The emotion was too much for Ms. Ersilia’s father, Mario, who collapsed and had to be taken to a hospital last week, abruptly ending that day’s proceedings.

The death of Brigadier Cerciello Rega was the last act of a convoluted drama that began in a trendy Rome neighborhood full of nightclubs where the two Americans had gone to buy drugs earlier in the evening. The teenagers were sold an aspirin substitute instead of cocaine, and they grabbed the backpack of Sergio Brugiatelli, the Roman who had acted as a middleman in the deal, demanding money and cocaine for its return. The officer died during an operation to recover the backpack.

Over two full days on the stand, defense lawyers pointed to inconsistencies in Officer Varriale’s earlier depositions and critiqued actions they said were inappropriate.

Mr. Natale Hjorth was at one point blindfolded and handcuffed while he was detained, raising accusations of unlawful treatment. Officer Varriale made a video of Mr. Natale Hjorth in that moment, asking the defendant several questions, but he said in court that he had not wanted to interrogate him. He admitted that treating a detained person in such a way “seemed strange,” but he said many of his superiors were in the room, so he didn’t think there was cause to intervene.

The jury also heard that when he was first interrogated in the days after the crime, Officer Varriale told his superiors that he and the brigadier had brought their guns with them that night, a detail that was later found to be false. He is currently on trial in a military court for not carrying his service weapon. On the stand, he said that he had made a mistake in lying to his superiors, calling the decision “thoughtless” and “foolish.”

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