Court Hears How Costa Concordia Victims Died; Schettino Has Plea Deal Rejected

July 18, 2013
(7:30 a.m. EDT) -- Prosecutors in the trial of Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino rejected his lawyers' request for a plea bargain yesterday (Wednesday).

Defense lawyers acting for Schettino, 52, said he would plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of three years and five months. A similar plea bargain request was rejected in May, when state prosecutors accepted plea bargains from five other officials, including four ship's officers and the crisis coordinator of the vessel's owners, Costa Cruises. Their hearing will be held this Saturday (July 20).

Today, defense lawyers are expected to ask the court for extra time to gather more evidence from the wreck, which still lies on its side on a rock off Giglio.

Schettino is the sole defendant in the trial, which is expected to last into next year and could see as many as 1,000 witnesses -- many of them survivors of the tragedy -- called to testify. Last week the trial was postponed by a lawyers' strike.

Yesterday's hearing started with a court official reading out the 32 names of the deceased passengers and crew members, describing how each one died, according to the National Post.

The reading of the list of the victims began with the death of a Frenchman, Francis Servel, who "not having found a place on the lifeboat, threw himself into the sea without a life vest.” He was “sucked toward the bottom of the whirlpool produced by the final flipping over on the right side of the ship, and then died due to asphyxiation."

The court heard how some passengers were “sucked into a vortex” of water rushing into the ship when the Concordia capsized. This happened after the crew told them to go to the other side of the ship where lifeboats were being launched, and the passengers ended up trying to walk down a tilting corridor.

Schettino faces three criminal charges and a slew of civil suits. Criminally, he is charged with the involuntary manslaughter of 32 people, causing a maritime disaster and causing personal injury to 150 people who were seriously hurt in the accident, which happened on January 13, last year. He faces at least 20 years in prison if found guilty.

On the civil side, 250 civil parties will be represented during the trial including Costa Crociere, which is suing the captain for causing the accident and destroying the Concordia.

--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor