Seven Italian scientists have been convicted of manslaughter for failing to predict a massive earthquake that struck L’Aquila in 2009, killing more than 300 people.
The court sentenced the defendants, who are all members of the country’s Grand Commission on High Risks, to six years in prison, The Guardian reported. The report noted that convictions in Italy are not set until they go through at least one level of appeals, so the convicted Italian scientists will not face jail time immediately.
Worldwide, the decision to sentence the Italian scientists for manslaughter is being met with outrage. Scientists have called the trial ridiculous, noting that there is no reliable way to predict earthquakes. The convicted group include some of Italy’s most prominent and respected seismologists and geological experts including Enzo Boschi, former head of the country’s Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.
“I am dejected, desperate,” Boschi said after the Italian earthquake trial. “I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don’t understand what I was convicted of.”
The Italian scientists maintained their innocence after the earthquake trial ended.
“I consider myself innocent before God and men,” said Bernardo De Bernardinis, a former official of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency.
The Italian earthquake itself is being criticized as well. Taking place in L’Aquila, where the town’s historic center remains desolate after the quake, the trial included testimony from families of victims. These emotional testimonies are said to have nothing to do with the crux of the case, which is to prove whether the Italian scientists should have predicted the earthquake.
The Italian scientists were accused of giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about the small tremors residents of L’Aquila had been feeling in the weeks before the April 2009 earthquake.
“This verdict is a sad end to a tragic series of events in L’Aquila,” said John Elliott of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences said. “Earthquakes cannot be predicted, and these scientists should not even have been on trial accused of providing incomplete information, because it is unfair to have expected them to have provided an exact and complete warning of an earthquake in the first place – this is something which is not yet credibly possible for earthquake science.”
The Italian earthquake trial is recalling ideas of the church’s struggle to grapple with science, the BBC noted. That struggle has now transferred to the court, a secular institution, with the conviction of the Italian scientists.