.
.
.
.

Italians pay homage to slain police officer

Published: Updated:

Thousands of people paid homage on Sunday to an Italian police officer whose stabbing death sparked a national outcry, while the leaked photo of a blindfolded US suspect raised protests.

Flowers were laid in front of the station where officer Mario Rega Cerciello was based, and mourners queued up to pay their last respects at a chapel where his coffin was ahead of a funeral on Monday.

Cerciello, 35, was stabbed early Friday after recently returning from his honeymoon, and an Italian judge has charged two Americans, Christian Gabriel Natale Hjorth and Elder Finnegan Lee, both 19, with aggravated homicide and attempted extortion.

Cerciello’s funeral is to take place in his native town near Mount Vesuvius, with Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, due to attend.

Meanwhile, a photo taken of one suspect blindfolded and handcuffed while under questioning has sparked an outcry, with Italian media saying the officer responsible for placing the blindfold would be transferred to another post.

Giandomenico Caiazza, head of a lawyer’s union, said it might invalidate the interrogation's results, which police say included a confession.

The suspects say they did not realize that Cerciello and a colleague were police officers, but thought they were friends of an alleged drug dealer from whom the pair had stolen a bag after what was supposed to be cocaine turned out to be aspirin powder, according to media reporters citing investigators.

The victim of the theft tipped off the police, but when two officers in plain clothes went to arrest the two US tourists, one of them pulled a knife.

Some Italian media underscore questions about the case, such as why an alleged drug dealer would go to the police, why the paramilitary policemen went to a scheduled meeting point in plain clothes without backup, and why they did not identify themselves as police or draw their weapons.

Salvini, who is also Italy’s far-right interior minister, was among those who posted the picture of the blindfolded suspect on social media, with the comment: “The only victim was a man, a son, a husband, a carabiniere (police officer), a servant of the country!”

The case reminded Italians of a long-running affair that involved Amanda Knox, a US student who was convicted and acquitted years later of the murder of a flatmate in Perugia, central Italy in 2007.