Testifying in court last year, Mr. Elder said that he had panicked after Brigadier Cerciello Rega, who was much bigger than him, tackled him to the ground, and that he feared the officer would kill him.
In his testimony, Officer Varriale said that he and his partner had clearly identified themselves as carabinieri, or military police officers, when they approached the Americans. During a hearing for the appeal last month, Officer Varriale’s lawyer, Roberto Borgogno, dismissed the version of events given by the two Americans as “a film, fiction.”
The defense challenged the officer’s account of the evening, arguing that he had lied to cover serious missteps in the operation, including a failure to carry his service weapon with him that night.
Mr. Elder and Mr. Natale Hjorth were convicted in May of homicide, attempted extortion, resisting a public official and carrying a weapon without just cause. The court handed down Italy’s harshest sentence, adding in its written explanation of the ruling that the two men had never shown regret for their actions.
Addressing the court this month, one of Mr. Elder’s lawyers, Renato Borzone, said that life in prison, for someone so young, was “tantamount to a death sentence.”
The defense had rejected the prosecution’s allegations of intentional criminal conduct, arguing that the tragic epilogue of the evening stemmed from the defendants’ youth and inexperience; their upbringing in the United States, where carrying weapons is much more common; and their certainty that the two plainclothes cops were thugs, intent on hurting them.
Mr. Elder has been diagnosed as having a borderline personality disorder, Mr. Borzone said this week, arguing that the ferocity of his response could be attributed to “the reaction of someone who is terrorized.”