US judge considers lighter sentence for trucker


GOLD, COLO. –
A truck driver sentenced to 110 years in an explosive crash that killed four people in suburban Denver came close on Monday to a potential reduction in his prison sentence.

Judge Bruce Jones has scheduled a January 13 hearing to reconsider Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence following widespread outrage over the harshness of his sentence and an unusual request by prosecutors to reconsider the case.

During a virtual hearing to discuss the claim, one of Aguilera-Mederos’ attorneys, James Colgan, said the defense needed time to research to see if there were any similar cases that could help guide his approach.

Jones said he wanted to know more about whether the law that allowed him to reconsider the sentence gave him the discretion to set the sentence he wanted.

He said victims could speak out during the in-person hearing on whether Aguilera-Mederos should be punished. But he noted that he didn’t want them to go through this stress unless they wanted to.

“I’m a captive audience if they want to talk to me,” he said.

About 5 million people have signed an online petition asking for pardon for Aguilera-Mederos. In addition to the prosecution’s request to lower the sentence, Aguilera-Mederos sought mercy from Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

Last week, District Attorney Alexis King said in a statement she would seek a sentence of 20 to 30 years in the 2019 sinking on Interstate 70 west of Denver. She said the range of penalties reflected an “appropriate outcome” for Aguilera-Mederos’ driving, noting that the crash was not an accident.

After Monday’s hearing, King said his office had requested a reconsideration to give the court the option of imposing a sentence not bound by the state’s mandatory sentencing laws. She said the judge, familiar with the case, was in the best position to decide on a new sentence and urged people to be patient as the court process unfolds.

Jones imposed the 110-year sentence on Aguilera-Mederos on December 13 after finding it to be the mandatory minimum sentence under state law.

“I will say if I had the discretion it would not be my sentence,” the judge said at the hearing.

Leonard Martinez, another lawyer for Aguilera-Mederos, said the new range of sentences requested by the district attorney was not consistent with similar cases in Colorado and the United States.

Colorado law allows for variation in sentences for crimes deemed violent in cases with “unusual and extenuating circumstances,” but those sentences can only take effect 119 days after a person enters prison. The King and defense attorneys believe Jones can impose a new, reduced sentence before that and bring it into effect later.

Aguilera-Mederos testified that he was hauling lumber when the brakes on his tractor-trailer failed as he was descending a steep grade of Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountain foothills on April 25, 2019. His truck crashed into vehicles which had slowed down due to another wreckage, setting off a chain reaction wreckage and fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.

He cried as he apologized to the families of the victims when he was sentenced on December 13.

“When I look at my accusations, we are talking about a murderer, which is not me,” he said. “I never thought of hurting anyone in my whole life.”

Prosecutors argued that he should have used an access ramp designed for such situations. Aguilera-Mederos, for his part, said he was having trouble avoiding traffic and was trying to shift to slow down.

The accident killed Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 24, William Bailey, 67, Doyle Harrison, 61, and Stanley Politano, 69. Relatives of the victims argued at least some jail time during his sentencing hearing.

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