Italian Scientists to Stand Trial for Manslaughter in Quake Case

ROME—Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), will face trial on charges of manslaughter with six other scientists and technicians for failing to alert the residents of L'Aquila ahead of the devastating earthquake that struck the central Italian town on 6 April 2009, killing 308 people.

The seven experts sit on the nation's major risks committee, and were probed by L'Aquila prosecutors after members of the public complained that it was the committee's reassurances that persuaded them not to leave their homes ahead of the quake.

In addition to Boschi, those facing trial are: Franco Barberi, committee vice president; Bernardo De Bernardinis, at the time vice president of Italy's Civil Protection Department and now president of the country's Institute for Environmental Protection and Research; Giulio Selvaggi, director of the National Earthquake Centre; Gian Michele Calvi, director of the European Centre for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering; Claudio Eva, an earth scientist at the University of Genoa; and Mauro Dolce, director of the office of seismic risk at the Civil Protection Department.

The seven were placed under investigation almost a year ago, and today L'Aquila Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella announced that they will be tried. According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Gargarella said that the seven defendants had supplied "imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information," in a press conference following a meeting held by the committee 6 days before the quake. In doing so, they "thwarted the activities designed to protect the public," the judge said.

During the meeting on 31 March 2009—which also included other researchers from the INGV, city officials and representatives of the Civil Protection Department—committee vice chair Barberi, one of the seven to be tried, said there were no grounds for thinking that a major quake was imminent, even though the area around the town had been experiencing a series of smaller tremors in the previous months. In the press briefing afterward, prosecutors say, the commission made statements that gave the town's people a false sense of security.

Boschi's lawyer, Marcello Melandri, tells ScienceInsider that Boschi has taken the judge's decision very badly and that the defendants had never expected that the case would actually go to court. Melandri insists that Boschi never sought to reassure the population of L'Aquila that there was no threat. On the contrary, the INGV head made it clear that "at some point it is probable that there will be a big earthquake" in the Abruzzo region, of which L'Aquila is the capital, he says.

Melandri says the trial, scheduled to start on 20 September, could take anywhere between 6 months and 2 years.

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