LOS ANGELES — During his third day of testimony, Juan Manuel Alvarez told jurors Thursday that he did not tell anyone he doused himself with gasoline until consulting with attorneys after he was arrested.
“You never told doctors at [Los Angeles] County Hospital [USC Medical Center] or county jail,” Deputy Dist. Atty. John Monaghan said. “Not until after you were arrested did you ever tell anyone you were doused with gasoline. It was because you never did douse yourself with gasoline.”
Alvarez said he eventually told doctors and other medical professionals assigned to his case, but not until after his arrest and subsequent murder charges in 2005.
The issue is central to Monaghan’s case as he seeks to prove that Alvarez lied when he testified on Tuesday that he poured gasoline on himself in a suicidal fit before an oncoming Metrolink train smashed into his Jeep Grand Cherokee, which he had parked on the railroad tracks at Chevy Chase Drive.
The resulting train wreck killed 11 people and left 184 others injured. Alvarez is charged with 11 counts of murder and one count each of train wrecking and arson.
If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
“At some point, after you were arrested, you found out about [the arson charge],” Monaghan said.
“In order to get out of it, you said, ‘I poured gasoline on my head.’”
Alvarez testified Tuesday that on the morning of Jan. 26, 2005, he poured gasoline on his head and back in an attempt to burn himself after perceived slights from his then-estranged wife, Carmen, and fears that he would not be able to regain custody of his two children, whom he had lost after battling an addiction to methamphetamine.
But Thursday, Monaghan pressed Alvarez on his suicidal intentions, hearkening back to the trial’s opening statements when Deputy Dist. Atty. Cathryn Brougham told jurors Alvarez purposefully caused the 2005 incident in an attempt to get his wife’s attention.
Such attention-grabbing stunts were nothing new for Alvarez, Monaghan said, detailing a prior incident when Alvarez and his wife visited Disneyland.
The two had argued and an enraged Alvarez cut himself five times, he said.
“You got a reaction from her when you cut yourself, didn’t you?” Monaghan asked.
“Yes,” Alvarez answered, repeatedly glancing at the nine-woman, three-man jury, often pausing before answering questions.
Monaghan also pushed Alvarez to explain why he tried to kill himself on the Metrolink train tracks near Glendale, instead of at his home or at a nearby park.
On the morning of Jan. 26, 2005, Alvarez said he drove from a gas station back to a garage in his apartment, where he considered lighting himself on fire.
But Alvarez said he decided against that plan, saying he did not want to “ruin the landlady’s house.”
“So, you were able to make choices as to what you thought what was right and what you thought was wrong? Is that correct? At least about that choice,” Monaghan asked.
Alvarez also decided against killing himself in Chevy Chase Park, near his home, he said.
“I was looking for a quiet place to commit suicide, but I didn’t like the spot,” he said.
“I don’t remember, but I believe there are houses around, right next to park. There were lights. I don’t know.”
After the derailment, which was described as the worst in Metrolink history, a dazed Alvarez made his way back home, where he stabbed himself twice in the chest, he testified.
But Alvarez’s motivation for puncturing his body changed repeatedly, which proves that his intentions may not have been solely suicidal, Monaghan said.
“You told at least three different stories: one was you wanted to commit suicide; the second was that, it wasn’t suicide, you just wanted to feel pain that the people who lost their lives felt; and third, you told your landlady it wasn’t suicide because you couldn’t die.”
After being questioned by police officers, Alvarez reportedly told them, “I tried stabbing myself, but then I realized I can’t be dead,” Monaghan said.
The trial resumes Monday and is expected to end in July.