DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has commuted the prison term of a truck driver who was sentenced to 110 years following a fatal 2019 accident, reducing the sentence to 10 years.
Rogel Aguilera-Mederos killed four people on April 25, 2019, after he said his brakes failed the downhill grade on I-70 eastbound outside of Denver. Prosecutors argued that Aguilera-Mederos acted recklessly and made a series of poor decisions before the deadly wreck.
Polis reduced Aguilera-Mederos’ sentencing on Thursday to 10 years, saying in a letter that the life sentence was inappropriate for a “tragic but unintentional act.”
“While you are not blameless, your sentence is disproportionate compared with many other inmates in our criminal justice system who committed intentional, premeditated, or violent crimes,” Polis said in a letter addressed to Aguilera-Mederos.
Judge Bruce Jones had scheduled a hearing for Jan. 13 to reconsider Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence following widespread outrage over the severity of his punishment and an unusual request by prosecutors to revisit the matter.
During a virtual hearing to discuss the request, one of Aguilera-Mederos’ lawyers, James Colgan, said the defense needed some time to do research to see if there were any similar cases that could help guide its approach.
Jones said he wanted to learn more about whether the law that allowed him to reconsider the sentence gave him discretion to set whatever sentence he wanted.
He said victims would be able to speak at the in-person hearing about whether Aguilera-Mederos should be resentenced. But he noted he did not want them to go through that stress unless they wished to.
“I am a captive audience if they want to speak to me,” he said.
THE LEAD UP TO COMMUTATION
Around 5 million people signed an online petition seeking clemency for Aguilera-Mederos. In addition to the prosecution’s request to lower the sentence, Aguilera-Mederos has requested clemency from Polis.
Last week, District Attorney Alexis King said in a statement she would seek a term of 20 to 30 years in the 2019 wreck on Interstate 70 west of Denver. She said that sentencing range reflects an “appropriate outcome” for Aguilera-Mederos’ conduct, noting that the crash was not an accident.
After a Monday hearing, King said her office made the reconsideration request to give the court the ability to impose a sentence not bound by the state’s mandatory sentencing laws. She said the judge, knowing the case well, was in the best position to decide a new sentence and urged people to be patient as the court process plays out.
Jones imposed the 110-year sentence against Aguilera-Mederos on Dec. 13 after finding it was the mandatory minimum term set forth under state law.
“I will state that if I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence,” the judge said during the hearing.
Leonard Martinez, another lawyer for Aguilera-Mederos, has said the district attorney’s new requested sentencing range is not consistent with similar cases in Colorado and the United States.
Colorado law allows for sentences for crimes deemed violent to be modified in cases with “unusual and extenuating circumstances,” but those sentences cannot take effect until 119 days after a person enters prison. King and defense lawyers believe Jones can impose a new, reduced sentence before that and have it take effect later.
Aguilera-Mederos testified that he was hauling lumber when the brakes on his semitrailer failed as he was descending a steep grade of Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountain foothills on April 25, 2019. His truck plowed into vehicles that had slowed because of another wreck, setting off a chain-reaction wreck and a fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.
He wept as he apologized to the victims’ families at his Dec. 13 sentencing.
“When I look at my charges, we are talking about a murderer, which is not me,” he said. “I have never thought about hurting anybody in my entire life.
Prosecutors argued he should have used a runaway ramp designed for such situations. Aguilera-Mederos, for his part, said he was struggling to avoid traffic and trying to shift to slow down.
The crash killed 24-year-old Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 67-year-old William Bailey, 61-year-old Doyle Harrison and 69-year-old Stanley Politano. Relatives of victims supported at least some prison time at his sentencing hearing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.