Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth
© Valentina Stefanelli/APFinnegan Lee Elder, left, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, centre, appear in court
An Italian court of appeal has upheld the murder convictions of two American men over the death of an Italian plainclothes police officer during a botched sting operation but reduced their sentences. The new trial was ordered after Italy's highest court threw out their original convictions.

The court convicted Finnegan Lee Elder and sentenced him to 15 years and two months in prison and gave a sentence of 11 years to Gabriele Natale-Hjorth.

They were found guilty over the death of the carabinieri vice-brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega in July 2019. Prosecutors had asked that Finnegan be sentenced to 23 years and nine months and 23 years for Natale-Hjorth.

The former school friends from the San Francisco Bay area, who were teenagers at the time of the killing, had met in Rome to spend a few days on holiday together.

The fatal incident took place after they arranged to meet a small-time drug dealer, who turned out to have been a police informant, to recover money lost in a bad deal.

Instead, they were confronted by the officers. Cerciello Riga was stabbed 11 times.

Italy's highest court, the court of cassation, ordered a new trial last year, saying it had not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants, with limited Italian language skills, had understood they were liaising with Italian police officers when they went to meet an alleged drug dealer in Rome.

Defence lawyers had argued that the defendants did not know they were facing police officers when the attack happened.

The highest court threw out Elder's conviction and 24-year sentence and asked the court of appeal to consider the charge of resisting an officer. In regards to Natale-Hjorth, the court was ordered to look at the charge of complicity to commit murder.

The killing of the officer in the carabinieri paramilitary police department shocked Italy. Cerciello Rega, 35, was mourned as a national hero.

Prosecutors alleged Elder stabbed Cerciello Rega with a knife that he had brought with him on his trip to Europe and that Natale-Hjorth helped him hide the weapon in their hotel room.

Under Italian law, an accomplice in an alleged murder can also be charged with murder.

Prosecutors contend the pair had concocted a plot involving a stolen bag and phone after their failed attempt to buy cocaine with €80 ($96) in Rome's Trastevere nightlife district. Natale-Hjorth and Elder testified they had paid for the cocaine but did not receive it.