The ship captain accused of causing the deaths of 32 people in last year's Costa Concordia cruise disaster asked for a plea bargain Wednesday as his trial got under way in Italy.
Francesco Schettino faces three criminal charges: involuntary manslaughter for the deaths; causing a maritime disaster; and causing personal injury to 150 people who were badly hurt in the accident.
The trial, being held in Grosseto, begins a year and a half after the luxury cruise liner ran aground off the west coast of Italy.
If convicted on all charges, Schettino could face a sentence of about 25 years in total. But his lawyers may argue that he serve his sentence under a form of house arrest, since there's virtually no danger of him repeating the offense.
His lawyers asked for a plea bargain in exchange for a sentence of three years and five months in prison.
But the prosecutor voiced his opposition to the request, which means it is almost certain to be turned down. The tribunal is expected to rule on it within a few days.
A similar request was made by Schettino in May but was rejected.
Four crew members and an officer for Costa Cruises who were originally co-defendants with Schettino have already asked for a plea bargain trial. Their requests will be decided Saturday.
Schettino's trial was due to start last week but was postponed because lawyers involved in the case were taking part in a nationwide strike to protest measures aimed at streamlining civil trials.
Night of chaos
Schettino was in court with his lawyers for Wednesday's hearing, the start of a process that will be closely watched in Italy and elsewhere.
The Costa Concordia, carrying 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members, made global headlines when it turned on its side after striking rocks off the Italian island of Giglio on January 13, 2012.
According to passengers' accounts, chaos ensued that night, as guests rushed to fill lifeboats and escape the shipwreck. Some crew members helped passengers and then jumped overboard, passengers said; remaining crew members seemed helpless to handle the melee.
The case centers on several questions, including why it allegedly took Schettino more than an hour to issue an order to abandon ship and why he allegedly left the vessel before all passengers had abandoned it.
Given the complicated nature of the case, the trial could drag on for a year or more.
The prosecutor presented the court with a list of 357 witnesses Wednesday.
Running in tandem with the criminal prosecution are numerous civil suits against Schettino, which can be heard at the same time. This means more than 250 civil parties are also represented in court.
The first hearing, devoted to preliminary questions, was held in a theater to accommodate the dozen of lawyers involved.
'I want justice'
Among the civil plaintiffs is Gianluca Gabrielli, who came to Grosseto for the opening hearing of the trial.
"I'm still so angry and I want justice, this is why I'm here," he told CNN outside court.
"It was all going well, it was the nicest holiday we ever had with the family," he said, remembering the hours before the 114,000-ton ship hit the rocks just before 10 p.m. on a winter's night.
Gabrielli recalls getting into a lifeboat with his wife and the two girls, then ages 3 and 4. But the lifeboat was stuck, so the family had to climb out and struggle to the opposite site of the sliding vessel.
There, they had to slip into the sea using a rope ladder, with no life jackets and holding the children in their arms.
"I thought 'we'll all die,' it was all dark and cold," he said. "I still have unjustified panic moments, even this morning during the hearing, I suddenly thought that an earthquake was coming."