Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I Don't Want to Relive It

From today's Los Angeles Times:

The widow of a Metrolink train crash victim told a judge today that she blamed her husband's death on the train company and does not support execution for the man convicted last month on 11 counts of first degree murder for causing the derailment.

"I don't want one more life to be lost innocently," Lien Wiley, whose husband Don Wiley was killed in the crash, told presiding Judge William R. Pounders. "I don't want more people to go through what I had to go through."

Wiley spoke to the judge outside the presence of the jury. Her words today stood in contrast to much of the emotional testimony in the second day of the penalty phase of the trial.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Juan Manuel Alvarez, 29, of Compton, who parked his sport utility vehicle on the train tracks near Glendale on Jan. 26, 2005, setting off a chain-reaction train crash that killed 11 people and injured at least 180.

A jury rejected Alvarez's claim that he had planned to commit suicide but changed his mind and then could not dislodge his vehicle from the tracks.

Wiley told Pounders that she did not want Alvarez to be used as "a scapegoat." She said she believed Metrolink was responsible for the severity of the crash because of its use of a controversial "push-pull" system to operate trains.

"The trains are very dangerous, Your Honor. I did my own investigation," Wiley said. "I don't want to use Mr. Alvarez as a scapegoat so that the train company doesn't do anything to make it safe for thousands of people."

More than 100 victims and their survivors are suing Metrolink for liability. The train company has denied culpability.

Wiley sobbed as she told Pounders that she did not want to testify as a prosecution witness in the trial of Alvarez.

"I don't want to relive it," Wiley said.

Pounders told Wiley that he understood but that she was being asked only to talk about her husband. He warned Wiley not tell jurors that she had forgiven Alvarez or that she believed he should be spared the death penalty.

"If you don't follow my orders, I will sanction you," Pounders said. "I will not hesitate to put you in jail."

The judge had previously cautioned prosecutors not to ask the relatives of victims testifying about the impact of the deaths on their lives whether they thought Alvarez should live or die.

Wiley did take the stand, reluctantly. Shaking and weeping, she told prosecutors that she and her husband were very close.

"We were always together," she said. "He was very loving, romantic, a man with high integrity, very responsible. I miss him very much. My home is cold and empty and my life is cold and empty."

But when prosecutors tried to show family photos of her husband, Wiley said no. Relatives of other victims have viewed photos, including snapshots of Christmas and vacations, and recalled their loved ones for jurors.

Jurors heard from relatives of Leonardo Romero,53.His daughter, Nicole Beniquez, praised him as a good father who "cared about us so much." Crying, she told the court that without the income from her father, an ex-Marine who had worked at a pipe-fitting company, the family had too little money to stay in California and had moved to Florida.

Some jurors and witnesses had tears in their eyes when Livia Kilinski described her life since losing her son Henry Kilinski, 39. He had been an aspiring firefighter who worked in insurance claims. He was devoted to his wife, stepdaughter, parents and sisters, she said.

"I can't deal with it. I can't live with it," Kilinski said. "It's a wound in my heart. I will never heal."

Elaine Parent Siebers stared directly at Alvarez as she spoke of losing her brother William Parent, 53. Parent's family had searched frantically for him after he gave his phone number to a stranger on the day of the crash and asked the man to let his family know he had been hurt.

"The pain and anguish that we're going through, I wish on no one," she said.

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