“For a length of time it worked great,” Belter said. “We’ll find out what the issue is. It’s in his best interest to come to court.”
Alvarez’s absence may have to do with his emotional instability, Belter added.
“He has been on suicide watch and within the last few months he has been in the mental clinic in jail,” he said.
While Pounders excused Alvarez’s no-show on Friday, future truancies will not be acceptable, he said.
“We can do this today without him, but I can’t let him stonewall the court,” he said. “I have to extract him from the jail. Especially in a case of potential death penalty, he has to come to court.”
On Jan. 26, 2005, Alvarez allegedly drove his Jeep Cherokee on the train tacks, doused it with gasoline and fled as a southbound Metrolink train approached. The train struck his car and jumped the track, hitting a parked Union Pacific train and a passing northbound train, causing a wreck that killed 11 and injured nearly 200 others.
Alvarez, 29, was charged with arson and 11 counts of murder with special circumstances.
Pounders led deliberations between defense attorneys and a deputy district attorney over evidence-handling in anticipation of jury selection, which was set for no later than March 24.
“Regardless of our circumstance, we have to move forward with jury selection,” Pounders said.
“Other courts have changed their schedule to accommodate us. We’re clogging our courts.”
Because of the significant attention the case received in the media, a pool of more than 400 jurors will descend upon Los Angeles Superior Court starting on March 24, when lawyers will question 75 potential jurors per day, Pounders said.
The selection process could take at least three weeks, and the trial might last three months, he said.