LOS ANGELES (CN) – The man that pulled his gasoline-covered sport-utility vehicle in front a Metrolink train in 2005, causing a crash that killed 11 people and injured 180 others, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Juan Manuel Alvarez, 29, was convicted of 11 counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson last month by a jury of nine women and three men. The jury said it based its verdict on California’s felony murder rule, which allows a first-degree murder conviction for felonies, such as arson, that led to death.
On the morning of Jan. 26, 2005, the former Compton laborer parked his Jeep Cherokee on the tracks and fled to a friend’s house, where he stabbed himself with scissors. A Metrolink train then plowed into his Jeep and derailed, colliding with an oncoming train and a parked freight train. The incident, which took place in Glendale, northeast of Los Angeles, was the deadliest in the commuter rail’s 15-year history.
During the eight-week trial, the jury wept through testimony of the victims’ relatives, but ultimately spared Alvarez the death penalty, believing he never meant to kill anyone.
“He wanted to make a statement,” the 27-year-old jury foreman said. “He expected his Jeep would be blown up.” While the defense called the action an aborted suicide attempt, prosecutors argued that Alvarez caused commuter deaths intentionally in order to get attention from his estranged wife, whom they said he considered killing that morning.
The jury rejected Alvarez’s claim that he was trying to commit suicide, but agreed that Alvarez had gotten “shortchanged” in life, as one 61-year-old juror put it. Alvarez suffered an abusive upbringing and became a methamphetamine addict.
Superior Court Judge William Pounders set sentencing for Aug. 20.