Italian government officials have accused the country's top seismologist, Enzo Boschi of manslaughter, along with the other six, 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 Center; Gian Michele Calvi, director of the European Center 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, for their failure to predict the future and the impending disaster.
Boschi, is the president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).
A shocked spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) likened the accusations to a witch hunt.
Earthquakes are, of course, nearly impossible to predict, seismologists say. In fact, according to the USGS website, no major quake has ever been predicted successfully.
"Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake," reads a statement posted on the USGS website. "They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future."
The seven scientists were placed under investigation almost a year ago, according to a news story on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) -- the world's largest general-science society and a leading voice for the interests of scientists worldwide.
"Whoever made these accusations misunderstands the nature of science, the nature of the discipline and how difficult it is to predict anything with the surety they expect," Alan Leschner, chief executive of AAAS, told FoxNews.com.
The case could have a "chilling effect" on scientists, he noted.
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, and have therefore "thwarted the activities designed to protect the public," said Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella.
Boschi's lawyer, Marcello Melandri, told the AAAS that his client never sought to reassure the population of L'Aquila that there was no threat. On the contrary, Boschi made it clear that "at some point it is probable that there will be a big earthquake."