L’Aquila earthquake: Italian scientists found guilty of multiple manslaughter
Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L’Aquila.
A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter.
Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake, while the defence maintained there was no way to predict major quakes.
The 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the city and killed 309 people.
Many smaller tremors had rattled the area in the months before the quake that destroyed much of the historic centre.
It took Judge Marco Billi slightly more than four hours to reach the verdict in the trial, which had begun in September 2011.
Lawyers have said that they will appeal against the sentence. As convictions are not definitive until after at least one level of appeal in Italy, it is unlikely any of the defendants will immediately face prison.
The seven – all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks – were accused of having provided “inexact, incomplete and contradictory” information about the danger of the tremors felt ahead of 6 April 2009 quake, Italian media report.
In addition to their sentences, all have been barred from ever holding public office again, La Repubblica reports.
In the closing statement, the prosecution quoted one of its witnesses, whose father died in the earthquake.
It described how Guido Fioravanti had called his mother at about 11pm on the night of the earthquake – straight after the first tremor.
“I remember the fear in her voice. On other occasions they would have fled but that night, with my father, they repeated to themselves what the risk commission had said. And they stayed.”
The judge also ordered the defendants to pay court costs and damages.
Reacting to the verdict against him, Bernardo De Bernardinis said: “I believe myself to be innocent before God and men.”
“My life from tomorrow will change,” the former vice-president of the Civil Protection Agency’s technical department said, according to La Repubblica.
“But, if I am judged by all stages of the judicial process to be guilty, I will accept my responsibility.”
Another, Enzo Boschi, described himself as “dejected” and “desperate” after the verdict was read.
“I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don’t understand what I was convicted of.”
One of the lawyers for the defence, Marcello Petrelli, described the sentences as “hasty” and “incomprehensible”.
The case has alarmed many in the scientific community, who feel science itself has been put on trial.
Some scientists have warned that the case might set a damaging precedent, deterring experts from sharing their knowledge with the public for fear of being targeted in lawsuits.
Among those convicted were some of Italy’s most prominent and internationally respected seismologists and geological experts.
Earlier, more than 5,000 scientists signed an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in support of the group in the dock.
• Franco Barberi, head of Serious Risks Commission
• Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Institute of Geophysics
• Giulio Selvaggi, director of National Earthquake Centre
• Gian Michele Calvi, director of European Centre for Earthquake Engineering
• Claudio Eva, physicist
• Mauro Dolce, director of the the Civil Protection Agency’s earthquake risk office
• Bernardo De Bernardinis, former vice-president of Civil Protection Agency’s technical department