LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A judge Thursday rejected a defense bid for re- sentencing for the man convicted of murder for parking his SUV on railroad tracks at the Glendale-Los Angeles border and causing a Metrolink train derailment that killed 11 people and injured more than 180 others.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen ruled that Juan Manuel Alvarez “was the actual killer” and is therefore ineligible for re- sentencing as a result of a recent change in state law that affects the convictions and sentences of defendants in some murder cases.
The former Compton resident was sentenced in August 2008 to 11 consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole after being convicted of 11 counts of first-degree murder stemming from the Jan. 26, 2005, crash on the railroad tracks south of Chevy Chase Drive in Glendale. Jurors found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders.
Alvarez was also found guilty of one count of arson for pouring gasoline on his green Jeep Cherokee Sport, which he left on the tracks. Jurors acquitted him of a train-wrecking charge and rejected a special circumstance allegation that the murders were committed during a train-wrecking.
During more than four days on the stand during his trial, the former construction worker and father of two testified that he meant to commit suicide by parking his vehicle at about 6 a.m. that day, but changed his mind and couldn’t get the SUV off the tracks.
“I was going to kill myself,” Alvarez testified. “I feel terrible and I ask for forgiveness.”
Alvarez told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury that heard the case against him that it never crossed his mind that anyone aboard the train would be hurt.
Prosecutors countered that Alvarez, then 26, intended to cause a catastrophe to get his estranged wife’s attention.
Metrolink train No. 100, which was heading south to Union Station, derailed after plowing into the vehicle, then crashed into nortbound Metrolink train No. 901 at the Glendale-Los Angeles city line. The train also struck a Union Pacific freight train locomotive, which wound up on its side.
Arson investigators from the Glendale Fire Department said gasoline had been poured on both the inside and outside of the Jeep. That caused a fire after train No. 100 smashed into the vehicle on the tracks.
The crash killed 51-year-old Manuel Alcala, 44-year-old Julia Bennett, 62-year-old Alfonso Caballero, 65-year-old Elizabeth Hill, 39-year-old Henry Kilinski, 42-year-old Scott McKeown, 58-year-old train conductor Tom Ormiston, 53-year-old William Parent, 53-year-old Leonard Romero, 47-year-old sheriff’s Deputy James Tutino and 53-year-old Don Wiley.
At his sentencing, then-Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders told him that if there was “a sentence known as forever … I would give it to you.”
Alvarez had “shown no remorse to this court” for his actions, Pounders said then.
Jurors had recommended that Alvarez be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than death.
A state appeals court panel subsequently upheld his conviction, finding that “substantial evidence established that injury to the train was a direct, natural and highly probable consequence of causing the train to ignite the gasoline-drenched Jeep and push it down the rails.”
The appellate court panel also rejected the defense’s claim that the judge erred in excluding expert testimony to show that it was improbable and unforeseeable that a collision between a train and a passenger vehicle would result in derailment, a train-on-train collision and death to a person on a train, along with Alvarez’s contention that errors were made in the jury instructions.
In 2012, the California Supreme Court refused to review the case against Alvarez.