Posted on behalf of Nicola Nosengo
The second anniversary of the earthquake that hit the Italian city of L’Aquila in 2009, killing 308 people, is on 6 April. But even then, it will be still too soon to know whether six Italian seismologists will be tried for manslaughter because of what they told the government and the population in the days before the earthquake.
The case has been dragging on since last June, when the public prosecutor of L’Aquila indicted the scientists and one civil protection official (See Nature’s story here).
The accusation revolves around a press conference held in L’Aquila on 31 March, 2009. At the press conference, the civil protection officer, acting on the advice of the seismologists who were working as consultants for the government, reassured the population (alarmed by a long sequence of earthquakes in the area) and downplayed the risk of a major earthquake. As a consequence, according to the indictment, some people who would otherwise have left the area decided to stay, and were eventually killed when their houses collapsed.
It is now up to the Judge for Preliminary Hearings in the same city to decide whether this is enough for a trial. A decision was first expected on 11 December, but was postponed because of a formality – one of the defendants had not been notified the indictment properly. A new hearing on 26 February lasted only two hours before being adjourned to 16 May.
The judge decided that more time is needed to evaluate the requests of dozens of citizens to become “civil parts” in the trial. In the Italian criminal law, this happens when someone who claims to have been damaged by the defendant asks for his compensation request to be judged by the same court in charge of the criminal accusation. During the past few months, more and more citizens have requested to become civil parts in the trial, and the court now has to decide who to accept and who to reject. After the hearing, a spokesperson for a citizen’s association said that “in principle the whole city could ask for compensation, but a limit has to be found”.
Image: Photo by wolfango via Flickr under Creative Commons