Jury weighing fate of killer in LA rail disaster

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Jury weighing fate of killer in LA rail disaster

Post  Jennie on Tue Jul 15, 2008 12:28 pm

Jury weighing fate of killer in LA rail disaster

The life-or-death decision about the fate of a man convicted of murdering 11 people by causing a commuter train derailment in 2005 was placed in the hands of jurors Monday after his lawyer told them: ''You are not here to be avenging angels. You are here to be a rational and thinking body.''

The same panel that found Juan Alvarez guilty of 11 counts of first-degree murder was asked to recommend whether he be put to death or sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Alvarez parked his SUV on railroad tracks, causing a Metrolink train to derail and strike another Metrolink train going the other direction on Jan. 26, 2005. 11 people died and about 180 were injured.

In closing arguments of the death penalty phase of his trial, a prosecutor asked for the death sentence, depicting the 29-year-old Alvarez as a selfish man who turned his back on every opportunity offered to him when he came to the United States after a childhood in Mexico.

''He had a lot going for him. He basically had the American dream,'' said Deputy District Attorney John Monaghan.

''He feels he has a right to do whatever he wants to do,'' the prosecutor said.

Monaghan said that Alvarez ripped apart the lives of families whose loved ones were killed in the derailment and that he had forefeited his right to live.

Defense attorney Michael Belter argued that Alvarez's childhood of abuse by a father who was a ''monster'' and a mother who tried to abort him shaped him into a mentally disturbed man who sought refuge in methamphetamine addiction.

''To suggest he is anything but a troubled person with deep-seated mental illness is to ignore the obvious,'' Belter said.

''From the moment he was conceived he was unwanted and unloved.''

He reminded jurors of testimony that Alvarez was beaten relentlessly by his father, that he tried to commit suicide when he was just a child and that he saw his pregnant mother beaten until she had a miscarriage.

''This leads to lifelong depression,'' Belter said, citing Alvarez's testimony that he was hearing voices in the weeks before the derailment and that he set out to kill himself that day, not to kill others.

''Mr. Alvarez did not intend to kill,'' Belter said. ''That was not in his heart that day. ... He did not plan his life with a design to kill and ruin all these lives.''

He acknowledged the power of testimony from survivors of those killed and said, ''There is nothing I can say that would alleviate the tremendous pain and suffering, the loss by these families.''

But he added, ''You are here to make a rational decision, not be swayed by emotion. ''

Of Alvarez, he said, ''He is a man for whom death is not warranted. Justice will be served by a sentence of life in prison without parole.''

Jurors spent less than an hour deliberating before recessing for the day. They were to resume their talks Tuesday.

(source: Associated Press)

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