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Gov. Polis grants clemency, reduces trucker's 110-year sentence to 10 years

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos.png
Posted at 4:34 PM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 01:13:00-05

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday reduced the sentence of the semi-truck driver convicted of killing four people in the April 2019 explosive crash on Interstate 70.

Polis granted clemency to Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, reducing his sentence from 110 years to only 10 years.

The 26-year-old was given the 110-year sentence on Dec. 13. The judge who handed down the sentence was bound by the state's mandatory minimum sentencing rules.

In a statement, Leonard Martinez, who is Aguilera-Mederos’s attorney, said he was grateful for the governor’s willingness to grant clemency in the case.

“The judge’s sentence of 110 years is injust and not in line with prior case law, and we are thankful that the Governor agrees with us,” Martinez said in a statement. “We are reviewing this commutation of the sentence with Rogel and his family. The potential for Rogel to be reunited with his family rather than spend a lifetime behind bars is exciting for all involved.”

First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King, whose office sought the original charges but then asked a judge to reconsider the sentence and modify it to 20-30 years, said in a statement she was “disappointed in the Governor’s decision to act prematurely.”

“I joined the surviving victims and families of those who lost their loved ones in their wish to have the trial judge determine an appropriate sentence in this case, as he heard the facts and evidence of the defendant's destructive conduct that led to death, injury, and devastating destruction,” King said.

“We are meeting with the victims and their loved ones this evening to support them in navigating this unprecedented action and to ensure they are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect during this difficult time,” she added. “We look forward to sharing more information with our community that we were ethically prohibited from releasing while the case was pending."

Aguilera-Mederos was convicted on Oct. 15 on most of the 42 counts he faced, including four counts of vehicular homicide, first-degree assault, attempted first-degree assault, reckless driving and careless driving.

Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano (24), Doyle Harrison (61), Bill Bailey (67) and Stanley Politano (69) were killed in the crash. Two others sustained serious bodily injuries.

Twenty-eight vehicles, including four semi-trucks, were damaged or caught on fire in the wake of the fiery crash on April 25, 2019. Investigators estimated he was going at least 85 miles an hour just before the crash as he was driving a semi-truck carrying lumber on eastbound I-70 down from the mountains into Lakewood.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Aguilera-Mederos could have taken steps to prevent the deadly crash, including using a runaway truck ramp miles before the crash, and that he “made a bunch of bad decisions” instead. His defense attorneys claimed he did not know the truck’s brakes were smoking or that he would not be able to stop his truck, though others testified at the trial that they had seen them smoking.

The sentence given to Aguilera-Mederos drew outrage from around the country and among truck drivers, with around five million people signing an online petition seeking clemency for him.

In granting clemency, Polis wrote in a letter that the 110-year sentence Aguilera-Mederos received was disproportionate to the crime.

"I believe you deserve clemency for several reasons. You were sentenced to 110 years in prison, effectively more than a life sentence, 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. Your highly unusual sentence highlights the lack of uniformity between sentences for similarly situated crimes, which is particularly true when individuals are charged with offenses that require mandatory minimum sentences. This case will hopefully spur an important conversation about sentencing laws, but any subsequent changes to the law would not retroactively impact your sentence, which is why I am granting you this limited commutation," wrote Polis.

The move comes days after a judge scheduled a hearing for next month to reconsider the sentence at the request of the district attorney, who had planned to ask that it be reduced to 20 to 30 years.

The Governor’s Office disclosed in a statement that a relative of Aguilera-Mederos works in the office, but “This individual had absolutely no involvement in the commutation process and works in an unrelated capacity to this matter, and was not aware of the Governor’s decision in advance," wrote Shelby Weiman, a spokesperson for Polis.

Aguilera-Mederos will be eligible for parole beginning in 2027.