Earthquake scientists get 6 years in L'Aquila ruling

Guilty of 'ineffective' assessment of deadly seismic risk

Earthquake scientists get 6 years in L'Aquila ruling

L'Aquila, October 22 - An Italian judge on Monday sentenced seven Italian scientists and officials to six years in prison for manslaughter over a 2009 earthquake in the central city of L'Aquila that killed over 300 people and left tens of thousands homeless. "I'm dejected, despairing. I still don't understand what I'm accused of," said Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Geophysics and Vulcanology Institute. Boschi and six others were also banned for life from public office. "The ruling cannot be anything but a topic of deep review in appeals," said defence attorney Marcello Petrelli. The case, in which seven defendants argued it is impossible to predict a quake, received international attention, with over 5,000 scientists from around the world having signed a letter supporting those on trial. The trial focused on one event in particular, in which the Committee on Major Risks met on March 31, 2009 in L'Aquila to examine rumblings that had frightened residents for months. In a memo, the experts concluded that it was "unlikely" that there would be a major quake, though it stressed that the possibility could not be ruled out. One week later the 6.3-magnitude tremor hit, toppling buildings, killing 309 people and displacing 65,000 more in and around the city. According to prosecutors representing the city council of L'Aquila, the accused are guilty of a "superficial and ineffective" assessment of seismic risk and of disclosing "inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory" information regarding earthquake danger. Critics of the indictments include the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "This is the death of service provided by professors and by professionals to the State," said physicist Luciano Maiani, the current president of Italy's Committee on Major Risks. The defence said that the guilty verdict will only discourage scientists from sharing their expertise with officials in the future. "It will have huge repercussions on how things get done at the public level. No one will ever do anything again," said Petrelli. Prosecution claimed damages of 50 million euros and sought only four years incarceration, which the judge increased to six. Among those found guilty was the former second-in-command of Italy's civil protection agency, currently the head of Italy's Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA). "I claim innocence before God and man," said Bernardo De Bernardinis.

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