Convicted killer gets 11 life sentences

August 20, 2008 1:42:10 PM PDT
A man convicted of causing a deadly commuter rail crash that he blamed on an attempt to commit suicide was sentenced Wednesday to 11 consecutive life terms by a judge who denounced him as a remorseless killer. Superior Court Judge William Pounders said he would have imposed a sentence of "forever" on Juan Alvarez, if it were possible. Alvarez will not be eligible for parole.

Alvarez parked his gasoline-soaked SUV on railroad tracks in suburban Glendale, where it was struck by a Metrolink train that derailed and struck another Metrolink train traveling in the other direction on Jan. 26, 2005. Eleven people were killed and about 180 were injured.

The defense maintained Alvarez had changed his mind at the last minute about trying to commit suicide on the tracks but couldn't move the SUV before it was struck.

Many of the victims' survivors came forward to speak through tears about their lost relatives and the way the crash had changed their lives.

Some demanded that Alvarez turn and look them in the eye as they told him of the havoc he had wrought on their lives.

"Please look at me so you can understand the pain you caused," said Elaine Sievers, sister of victim William Parent, 53. "You did a very bad and stupid thing."

"What you have done has affected every aspect of my life," she said. "I tend to stay indoors. I'm afraid of people like you out on the streets."

Alvarez obliged some of the speakers. In some cases, he shook his head when they asked him for responses.

A few said they were trying to forgive him. Most said they could not.

"I wish you the most miserable life possible," said Henry Romero, nephew of a victim.

"Who knows if God will forgive you? I can't," said Hope Alcala, mother of Manuel Alcala.

The prosecution characterized Alvarez as a smirking man who didn't think of the crash as a tragedy.

The defense painted Alvarez as a mentally disturbed man who was almost aborted by his mother, was shaped by a childhood of horrific abuse and became a methamphetamine addict.

They said he drove onto the railroad tracks in a misguided attempt to get the attention of his estranged wife but changed his mind at the last minute.

Alvarez took the stand during the trial and apologized.

Jurors also heard a breathless, sobbing taped message from the defendant to a cousin shortly after the accident, in which he said: "I didn't mean to do this. ... A lot of innocent people died. I don't deserve to live. ... I apologize for everything. Please pray for me, please."

The jury foreman said after the verdict that he did not believe Alvarez planned to kill or harm anyone. But he also rejected Alvarez's explanation that he was trying to commit suicide.


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