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Alvarez’s sentencing underway

Man who caused 2005 Metrolink crash that killed 11 will face life in prison or the death penalty.

July 09, 2008|By Jeremy Oberstein

LOS ANGELES — Emotionally charged testimony by co-workers and family members of victims who died in a 2005 Metrolink train crash marked the first day of the penalty phase against Juan Manuel Alvarez on Monday, highlighted by tearful jurors and loud weeping from those sitting in the packed courtroom.

Alvarez, 29, was convicted of 11 counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson on June 26 for his role in the Jan. 26, 2005, Metrolink derailment that injured 184 crew members and passengers. Officials said the incident was one of the worst train crashes in history.

Jurors must now choose between sentencing Alvarez to life in prison without the possibility of parole, or to death, which Deputy Dist. Atty. Cathryn Brougham said was the proper punishment.

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“We’re going to ask you to impose the greater punishment, a punishment of death,” Brougham told the nine-woman, six-man jury. “It won’t be an easy decision, and I’m not saying it will be pleasant, but I am asking you to make the right decision. You’re here to do the right thing.”

Brougham reminded jurors that each one of them had said in June, via the jury questionnaire they completed before being selected to serve, they would not be averse to imposing the death penalty if they felt the circumstances of the crime warranted such a sentence.

After hearing from witnesses, jurors will be asked to consider 12 factors while deliberating between life and death for Alvarez, including the circumstances of the crime and the impact to the victims and their surviving family members.

To that end, Brougham flicked through a series of pictures portraying the 11 train crash victims with their families during celebratory moments and showing grisly pictures of their mangled and bloodied bodies after the crash.

Sobbing family members in the audience punctuated Brougham’s presentation, forcing her to pause at one point.

Jurors could also be seen dabbing at tears and passing a tissue box around the rectangular jury box.

“I don’t remember this much emotion being involved,” said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders, who last year presided over the capital murder case of Chester Turner, who was sentenced to death for killing 10 women. “Almost all the jurors are crying. They’re having a tough time.”

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