What risks do these teens face under Italian law?
The Elder-Natale case has been compared by the press to the famous case of Amanda Knox, the Seattle
student accused of murdering her flatmate Meredith Kercher together with her then-boyfriend, Italian
Raffaele Sollecito. Ultimately she was acquitted, but only after a judicial process that lasted nearly 10
In truth, the two cases are very different. For starters, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have
always maintained their innocence, which is likely why they decided to face a jury trial.
In the Elder-Natale, however, Elder confessed to the murder during his first interrogation, while Natale
said he had nothing to do with the murder.
Despite this, the Rome prosecutor’s office is currently pursuing a charge of voluntary homicide against
both of them.
The two different positions are important for establishing the kind of trial the defendants are likely to
choose, as well as the type of punishment could face.
Italian law allows a sentence of life in prison for aggravated voluntary murder (first-degree murder).
If the murder is unintentional, such as in a case in which the assailant did not intend to kill but only to
wound, and death was not anticipated, the penalty is much lower. In that case, the maximum allowable
prison sentence is 18 years.
If the murder is the result of legitimate self-defense, there is no penalty if the self defense is deemed
appropriate. However, if there was an excess of self-defense, the penalty for culpable homicide
(second-degree murder) is applied, which carries a maximum sentence of five years.
In the Elder-Natale case, however, it seems difficult to claim a hypothesis of culpable homicide due to
the brutal method involved in the killing, including the number of stab wounds and to the suspects
attempts to hide the evidence and flee. A judge will take these factors into consideration to reconstruct
the suspects level of intentionality in committing the crime.
Therefore, it is very likely the trial will develop on the prosecutor’s arguments. The prosecutors office
is likely to charge both teens with voluntary murder.
Elder’s legal team has basically three defensive options: proving that the case is one of pre-intentional
homicide; invoking self-defense, which could lead to a very reduced sentence for culpable homicide; or
retracting the confession and claiming that the killer was someone else.
Natale’s defense, on the other hand, will probably try to argue that Natale was completely foreign to the
murder and did not know of his friend’s intentions or the weapon he was armed with.
Hypothetically, both teens are currently facing the risk of life sentences, and the strategies their legal
teams use to avoid that will be critical to the final outcome of the case.
Are the teens entitled to a jury trial?
Under Italian law, murder trials are handled by a jury, unless the defendant chooses an alternative
method, such as the abbreviated (fast-track) judgement.
Italian juries differ from American ones in that Italian juries are made up of two judges and six citizens.
In addition, as opposed to the case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, in which the defendants
consistently maintained their innocence, in this case there seems at the moment to be no doubt about
who committed the murder. The only doubt seems to be how it was committed; a doubt, however, that
can greatly influence the final sentence.
If a defendant chooses a fast-track trial, giving up the right to a trial by jury, the defendant is entitled to
a reduction of one-third of the penalty as well as a maximum penalty of 30 years, rather than life in
Therefore, if both defendants choose to face a jury trial, they will risk life imprisonment, while if they
opt for the fast-track trial, they will risk at most 30 years in prison.
Can the fact that Natale was blindfolded affect the validity of the trial?
Natale’s blindfolding on its own does not jeopardize the investigation or the trial, unless there is stronger
evidence that his interrogation took place under illegal pressure. His interrogation was videotaped, so it
will therefore be available for his defense team to evaluate.
The blindfolding, even if it is non-standard, is not a crime unless it was done to push Natale into
acting against his will. In this case, it would be considered a crime classified under Italian law as
“private violence”. If on the other hand, for example, the Carabinieri police blindfolded him because
they feared he could be dangerous and therefore felt more comfortable having him blindfolded while in
custody, that would not be a crime according to Italian law. It would, however, be considered improprer
behavior by the Carabinieri officer who administered the blindfold, and that officer would have to face
a disciplinary hearing.
Can a conviction be served in the United States?
In the event they are convicted, Elder and Natale would be allowed to serve out their sentences in the
United States under the 1983 Strasbourg Convention, which was ratified by both Italy and the United
States. However, this would be possible only after the sentence becomes final, thus after all appeals are
exhausted or if they decide to abandon the appeals process. This possibility is subject to certain
An example of how these conditions can affect the implementation of the Convention is the case of
Italian citizen Enrico “Chico” Forti. A Florida court found Forti guilty of murder and sentenced him to
life in prison. However, the United States government refused to transfer Forti to Italy to serve his
sentence because Forti has always maintained he is innocent. In order to apply the Convention, the
defendant must accept the conviction and the sentence in order to be transferred.
When will the trial take place and how long will it last?
There are three levels of trial in the Italian system. The duration of the process depends on the choices
the defendants make for their defense. If they opt for a jury trial, it would likely take a year to start, and
can last a year at the first level. In a jury trial, working through all three levels of trial can take five or
six years. If convicted at the first level, the defendants must remain in prison while the case continues
to work its way through the system.
If, on the other hand, the defendants opt for the shortened fast-track procedure, the process will start
and end more quickly. This procedure usually involves only one hearing. The trial would probably take
eight to 10 months at the first level with a couple of additional years to move through the other two