Suicide Attempt Ends In Murder Conviction

By: Gerri L. Elder

Juan Alvarez soaked his vehicle with gasoline and then parked it on railroad tracks in Glendale, California on January 26, 2005. The vehicle caused two commuter trains to collide and 11 people died in the wreckage. Alvarez was charged with a count of first-degree murder for each death, one count of arson and one count of train wrecking.

Although Alvarez claims that he was attempting suicide when he caused the accident and pleaded not guilty to the charges, he was convicted on the 11 counts of first-degree murder and the arson charge. The jury also came to the conclusion that there were special circumstances in the murders, which make Alvarez eligible to receive the death penalty. According to a report by the Associated Press, he was acquitted of the train wrecking charge.

After parking his gasoline-drenched SUV on the train tracks, Alvarez says he changed his mind about using the train to kill himself but claims he was unable to move his vehicle off of the railroad tracks. He left the SUV on the train tracks and went to a friend’s house and stabbed himself with a pair of scissors. During his criminal trial, Alverez testified that he did not remember stabbing himself but realized that he had been in the hospital with puncture wounds.

A high speed Metrolink train first crashed into Alvarez’s vehicle, was derailed and then hit another Metrolink train that was traveling in the opposite direction and a parked freight train. Approximately 180 people were injured in the disaster in addition to those who were killed in the crash.

During the criminal trial, prosecutors said that Alvarez was a liar and was not suicidal at all. They claim that Alvarez simply wanted to cause a catastrophe in order to get the attention of his estranged wife and that he began the day with the notion of killing her but killed the passengers on the train instead simply because he could not get to her.

Although the families of the victims who were killed in the crash are satisfied with the guilty verdict, there are some that don’t feel that he should be executed for the murders.

Alvarez’s criminal defense attorneys argued during the criminal trial that he was mentally ill and was a victim of childhood abuse who had become a drug addict. The prosecution rejected the defense lawyer’s claims and said that Alvarez was claiming that he is mentally ill as a manipulative tactic and that he is a pathological liar.

The penalty phase of the criminal trial started on July 7. Jurors will now decide if Alvarez should spend the rest of his natural life behind bars or if he should be put to death.