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Man in train case portrayed as violent

May 29, 2008|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

Despite a defendant's testimony that he was overcome with remorse for triggering a train wreck that killed 11 people three years ago, prosecutors Wednesday portrayed Juan Manuel Alvarez as a manipulative liar who often carried a weapon and sometimes threatened violence.

Peppered by rapid-fire questions from Deputy District Atty. John Monaghan, Alvarez acknowledged that he would carry a knife -- sometimes a machete -- and at one time damaged his brother-in-law's car and paid $1,000 to fix it.

He also conceded that he pulled a knife on his cousin, thought about killing his wife and threatened to slay her alleged lover. For a week or two, he even carried a gun in his car, he admitted.

"You were violent and you were dangerous, is that correct?" Monaghan asked.

"Yes," Alvarez answered.

It was the second day of testimony for the 29-year-old Compton man, who on Jan. 26, 2005, parked his Jeep on railway tracks near Glendale, in front of an oncoming Metrolink train. Eleven people were killed and 180 injured when the train derailed, hit an idle freight train and then collided with another passenger train.

Alvarez, who is charged with 11 counts of murder and one count each of train wrecking and arson, could face the death penalty if convicted.

In court Wednesday, Alvarez testified that while in jail he had extorted money from a fellow inmate and threatened to do the man great harm if he didn't comply.

He sold medications that he was given in jail to help his depression. He also had a history of lying to his wife and other relatives, the defendant testified.

Under questioning by defense attorney Thomas W. Kielty earlier in the day, Alvarez -- who said he had been physically and sexually abused as a child -- acknowledged being a methamphetamine addict. He said he had been trying to quit for "a long time," and when he got really high he would sometimes dump any extra meth he had down the toilet.

But since being jailed three years ago, Alvarez said, he has stopped using drugs and is now a changed man. "I think I'm better now and I'm afraid to touch anything," he said.

He also testified that he now believed that most of his thoughts about his wife cheating and having him tape recorded and followed were "hallucinations," although he was still "a little confused."

Kielty also sought to deflate the prosecution's argument that Alvarez's suicide attempts were a cry for attention. The defendant testified that he never got comfort or sympathy after such acts.

When he was a boy, his parents and grandmother would beat him as punishment for trying to kill himself, he said. And after one of his attempts to end his life while he was married, his wife kicked him out.

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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