Italy’s had a long history of putting scientists on trial for incredibly dumb shit. But it’s the 21st century, we should long be over that by now, right? Apparently not. After a deadly earthquake in the city of L’Aquila in 2009, the government blamed a group of geologists, saying they should have more accurately predicted the earthquake. Earlier this week, six of those scientists and a government official were sentenced to five years in jail for 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 “inaccurate, 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 11:00 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.”
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