L'Aquila: jailed scientists set to learn fate

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309 people died in the L'Aquila earthquake in April 2009. Photo: Fillipo Monteforte/AFP
12:35 CET+01:00
Seven Italians who were sentenced to prison for failing to predict the deadly L'Aquila earthquake are set to learn on Monday if they have won their appeal against verdicts that sparked international outrage.

Six scientists and one government official were sentenced to six years in jail in October 2012 after a court in the medieval town of L'Aquila found them guilty of multiple manslaughter for having underestimated the risks of the town being hit by a killer earthquake in 2009.

The seven, including some of the country's most eminent and respected seismologists, were also ordered to pay more than €9 million ($11.25 million) in damages to survivors of a disaster which left 309 people dead and the town in the Abruzzo mountains east of Rome devastated.

The final hearing in an appeal trial that began in mid-October concluded on Monday morning. The judges in the case then retired for final deliberations before announcing a verdict which is expected later on Monday.

The jail sentences of the seven were suspended pending the outcome of the appeal. If it fails, the scientists will have the opportunity to appeal to Italy's supreme court before the verdicts become definitive.

The initial verdict caused an outcry among scientists across the world, with many claiming that the prosecution of the experts had put science itself on trial.

Many compared the sentencing to the persecution of 17th Century astronomer Galileo, who, under threat of torture, was forced to recant his assertion that the Earth moves around the Sun.

The journal Nature called the verdict "perverse" and the sentencing "ludicrous" given the acknowledged impossibility of predicting earthquakes.

The seven convicted men were all members of a Major Risks Committee which met in L'Aquila on March 31st 2009, six days before the 6.3-magnitude quake struck the town, triggering the collapse of many inadequately constructed buildings within its walls and leaving thousands homeless.

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The prosecution in the case had depicted the experts as having negligently played down the risk of a major quake, therefore persuading citizens who might otherwise have sought refuge outside or in safer buildings to stay in their homes.

The Risks committee had been convened after a series of smaller tremors in the run-up to the deadly quake.

Key to the prosecution case were statements by then deputy director of the Civil Protection agency Bernardo De Bernardinis, who had described the seismic activity as posing "no danger" to residents.

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