7 convicted of failing to warn people of quake risk

By ANNALISA CAMILLI and FRANCES D'EMILIO

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 11:49 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this April 6, 2009 file photo released by the Italian Guardia Forestale (Forestry Police Force) an aerial view of the destruction following an earthquake in the city of L'Aquila, central Italy. An Italian court Monday, Oct. 22, 2012 has convicted seven scientists and experts of manslaughter for failing to adequately warn citizens before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people. The court in L'Aquila Monday evening handed down the convictions and six-year-prison sentences to the defendants, members of a national "Great Risks Commission." In Italy, convictions aren't definitive until after at least one level of appeals, so it is unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately. Scientists worldwide had decried the trial as ridiculous, contending that science has no way to predict quakes. (AP Photo/Guardia Forestale, File)

Associated Press

L'AQUILA, Italy — In a verdict that sent shock waves through the scientific community, an Italian court convicted seven experts of manslaughter on Monday for failing to adequately warn residents of the risk before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

The defendants, all prominent scientists or geological and disaster experts, were sentenced to six years in prison.

Earthquake experts worldwide decried the trial as ridiculous, contending there was no way of knowing that a flurry of tremors would lead to a deadly quake.

"It's a sad day for science," said seismologist Susan Hough, of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. "It's unsettling."

That fellow seismic experts in Italy were singled out in the case "hits you in the gut," she said.

In Italy, convictions aren't definitive until after at least one appeal, so it was unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately.

Italian officials and experts have been prosecuted for quake-triggered damage in the past, including a 2002 school collapse in southern Italy that killed 27 children and a teacher. But that case centered on allegations of shoddy construction in quake-prone areas.

Among those convicted Monday were some of Italy's best known and most internationally respected seismologists and geological experts, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

"I am dejected, desperate," Boschi said. "I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don't understand what I was convicted of."

The trial began in September 2011.

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