The news was a big jolt to most of us. As you recall, six Italian scientists and an ex-government official were found guilty of multiple manslaughter and were sentenced to six years in prison because they had given what turned out to be a falsely reassuring statement before the 2009 deadly earthquake in L’Aquila.
In our post about it — Seismologists Convicted, Idiots Delighted — we said that it might be the most insane court decision since Galileo’s heresy conviction. Galileo got convicted for saying that the Earth moves, and then these guys get convicted for failing to say it would move.
Now that verdict is being appealed. This news appears at the Nature website: Italian seismologists appeal L’Aquila ruling. It says, with bold font added by us:
Seven scientists, engineers and government officials who were found guilty of manslaughter after the 2009 earthquake in the city of L’Aquila, Italy, all filed their appeals against the verdict in time for a 6 March deadline.
The appeal trials will again take place in L’Aquila, but the court will consist of three judges instead of one as in the first-degree trial. The sentences — which include a six-year prison term and a permanent ban from civil service — will not become effective in the meantime.
This should be interesting. The news story continues:
According to the prosecutors, the experts underestimated the risk that a major shock might be on its way, and some of them made exceedingly reassuring statements to the press, implying that a strong earthquake would surely not happen. As a result, the prosecutors argued, on 6 April 2009, when a magnitude-6.3 quake occurred, 29 people who would otherwise have fled their homes during a tremor decided to stay inside and were killed when the houses collapsed.
On 22 October 2012, judge Marco Billi found the seven guilty of manslaughter and sentenced them all to prison terms of six years.
Serves them right — how dare they make a false prediction! They got off easy. Shoulda been burned at the stake! Let’s read on:
[Trial court judge] Billi explained his decision in an 800-page document made public on 18 January. He wrote that the defendants had conducted a “superficial, approximate and generic” risk analysis. Although they could not predict the earthquake, he wrote, they should have highlighted more clearly the probability of a strong shock and its possible effects, because they knew about the frailty of many buildings in the area.
We can’t find a link to the decision document. We didn’t look too hard, because it would be in Italian anyway. The story continues:
In their appeal requests, the attorneys for the seven scientists ask for the verdict to be overturned and all charges to be dropped.
Mostly, the appeals rebut the causal link at the heart of the sentence: that the 31 March meeting was the only reason the 29 victims were sleeping in their homes on the night of the earthquake, and that they surely would have been elsewhere had they not heard reassuring information from the panel.
That’s about it. If legal process in Italy is anything like it is in the US, we won’t be hearing anything more about this for several months. Meanwhile, we imagine that it’s difficult to get Italian scientists to make predictions about anything. Because of our respect for Italian law, won’t try to predict the outcome of this appeal — that’s far too risky.
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