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Controversial 110-year sentence to be reconsidered for truck driver responsible for fatal crash: DA – ABC News

  • Attorney Daniel Albert

The judge said he wouldn’t have chosen the sentence if he had the discretion.
110-year sentence to be reconsidered for truck driver responsible for fatal crash
Truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced on Dec. 13 to 110 years in prison for a 2019 fiery crash just outside Denver that killed four people and injured several others – a sentence that the judge in the case said he wouldn’t have chosen if he had the discretion.
A spokesman for the Colorado First Judicial District Attorney’s Office told ABC News on Tuesday afternoon that the DA’s office “filed a motion to start the reconsideration process” of the sentence on Friday afternoon, and Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King has requested that the court set a new hearing “as soon as practicable.”
“As Colorado law required the imposition of the sentence in this case, the law also permits the Court to reconsider its sentence in an exceptional case involving unusual and extenuating circumstances,” the motion says.
Mederos, who was 23 years old at the time of the crash, was charged with 42 counts and was found guilty on 27 – the most serious of which was first degree assault.
Prosecutors sought the minimum penalties for each of the charges — the highest of which is 10 years, but the number of the charges and a law that says that some have to be served consecutively resulted in the lengthy sentence.
“The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution says punishments can’t be cruel and unusual, and as far as Mr. Mederos is concerned, this is a cruel and unusual punishment,” Mederos’ attorney, James Colgan, told ABC News Tuesday.
A Change.org petition advocating for a commutation for Mederos, indicating that the crash was “not intentional,” was signed by more than 4.5 million people as of Tuesday afternoon, becoming one of fastest growing petitions on the website.
Mederos was driving a semitrailer loaded with lumber along a highway in Lakewood, Colorado, on April 25, 2019.
According to The Associated Press, police said that after his brakes failed, Mederos drove past a truck ramp before the crash. Mederos testified that after the brakes failed, he crashed into vehicles that had stopped on the highway due to another accident in Lakewood.
After driving onto the shoulder of the road, he crashed into stopped traffic at the Colorado Mills Parkway overpass, leading to a pileup that killed four people.
Those killed in the crash on Interstate 70 were Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 24; William Bailey, 67; Doyle Harrison, 61; and Stanley Politano, 69.
Police said that Mederos was driving at least 85 miles an hour before the crash – a point that his defense attorney disputed in court, on a stretch of the highway where there’s a 45 miles per hour speed limit for commercial vehicles, according to The Associated Press.
Prosecutors argued during the trial that Mederos could have taken a runaway truck ramp after losing control of his brakes, instead of driving into traffic.
Colgan said that his client “may have made some negligent mistakes,” but the punishment is “completely disproportionate to what happened.”
“What he did does not deserve a life sentence,” he said.
Why the judge didn’t have a choice
Ian Farrell, a professor of law at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, said that this case has sparked outrage because Mederos “got the same sentence as someone who intentionally killed 100 people would have gotten in Colorado.”
“In every state in the country, which doesn’t have the death penalty, the maximum possible sentence is a life sentence,” Farrell said.
A Jefferson County jury found Mederos guilty of six counts of first-degree assault, 10 counts of attempted first-degree assault, four counts of vehicular homicide, four counts of careless driving causing death, two counts of vehicular assault and one count of reckless driving.
“I will state that if I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence,” the district court judge, A. Bruce Jones, said during the sentencing. ABC News has reached out to Jones but a request for comment was not responded to.
Mederos was sentenced to 10 years each for six counts of first degree assault, as well as five years each for 10 counts of attempted first degree assault, resulting in the 110-year sentence.
“When the judge said he didn’t have discretion, he was accurate,” Colgan said.
Jones was bound by “sentence enhancers” that are outlined in Colorado law, Farrell said, pointing to mandatory minimum penalties for certain crimes and certain classifications that enhance penalties for violent crimes.
Under Colorado law, first degree assault and attempted first degree assault are classified as “crimes of violence,” Farrell said, which mandates that an individual convicted of more than two “crimes of violence” serve the sentences consecutively, not concurrently.
“One of the things that the sentence enhances and mandatory minimums do is it takes power away from the judge, and gives it to the prosecutor,” Farrell said.
Since vehicular homicide, a class four felony, and the remaining lesser charges are not classified as “crimes of violence,” Colgan said that the judge “had discretion to run [them] concurrently, which he did.”
Prosecutors face backlash
Asked about the backlash over the number of charges and the length of the sentence, District Attorney King told ABC News in a statement on Tuesday that prosecutors “initiated plea negotiations but Mr. Aguilera-Mederos declined to consider anything other than a traffic ticket.”
“The actions and decisions of Mr. Mederos resulted in the loss of four lives, devastating injuries to the survivors and – as we heard them state during the sentencing hearing – grave impacts to their families and loved ones,” King said.
Colgan argued Mederos was “overcharged” in an attempt to “coerce” him into pleading guilty.
Domingo Garcia, President of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told ABC News he believes that “racial bias played a big part” in Mederos’ case, pointing to the fact that he is a Cuban immigrant who used a translator during the trial.
Farrell said that it’s “impossible to know” if racial bias played a part, but “Black and brown people are overcharged [and] over sentenced in every different area of the law.”
King’s office did not comment directly on the allegations of racial bias when asked by ABC News, but said in a statement that “the sentence – which our office requested the minimum for – is within the purview of the court and reflects the judgment of the legislature.”
“Just as the law mandates this outcome, it also provides future opportunity to revisit the sentence, and we will again pursue an appropriate outcome if that opportunity arises, after consulting with the victims and survivors and receiving their input,” King said.
Seeking a commutation
On the witness stand, Mederos expressed remorse for those who were killed and injured in the crash and said that the accident was unintentional and he is “not a criminal.”
“I want to say sorry. Sorry for the loss, for the people injured. I know they have trauma, I know, I feel that,” he said while crying.
“But please, don’t be angry with me … I was working hard for a better future for my family. I have never thought about hurting anybody in my entire life,” Mederos, who emigrated from Cuba to the U.S. at the age of 19, said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said during a press conference on Tuesday that he received a clemency application from Mederos’ attorney.
Clemency could mean commutation or a pardon but Colgan told ABC News Tuesday morning he is “actively seeking a commutation” and not a pardon at this time.
Conor Cahill, the press secretary for Polis, told ABC News on Sunday before the application was received that Polis “would expedite consideration.”
A spokesman for LULAC, one of the largest Latino civil rights organizations in the U.S, told ABC News on Tuesday that the organization is set to meet with Polis on Wednesday morning to advocate for Mederos.
Asked if he plans to appeal the case, Colgan said that “everything’s on the table.”
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