Capitol rally urges Governor Polis to commute 110-year sentence for truck driver in I-70 crash

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On April 25, 2019, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was driving a tractor-trailer on Interstate 70 in Jefferson County when his brakes failed, according to testimony he later gave to investigators.

The fiery crash that followed killed four people, damaging and destroying 28 vehicles. Although the carnage was apparently not intentional, Aguilera-Mederos faced 41 counts, including homicide and driving. Aguilera-Mederos has not been charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The 26-year-old Cuban immigrant was found guilty on 24 counts and sentenced on December 16 to 110 years in prison.

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His conviction sparked an international uproar and shone the spotlight on the Colorado criminal justice system.

During a rally on Wednesday at the Colorado State Capitol, dozens of supporters held up signs bearing the message “#Justice for Rogel” or “Justicia y Libertad”. Aguilera-Mederos’ mother Oslaida Mederos spoke to the crowd sobbing.

“Please help me. Please help my son,” Mederos said in Spanish. “I want to be able to see my son.

In the Dec. 16 hearing, District Court Judge Bruce Jones said Colorado law requires that sentences for “violent crimes” be served consecutively, leaving him with no choice but to impose Aguilera-Mederos the sentence of 110 years. A wave of public outrage quickly followed.

On the same day of Aguilera-Mederos’ conviction, the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, announced its intention to file a formal complaint with the Colorado Bar Association, alleging “serious misconduct” by First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King.

Oslaida Mederos, left, speaks at a rally for her son, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, outside the Colorado State Capitol Building on December 22, 2021 (Faith Miller / Colorado Newsline)

“Colorado LULAC deeply regrets the loss of four lives and many more injured in this accident,” State Director Sonny Subia said in a LULAC statement. “This steep section of I-70 has long been known to be dangerous, even to the most experienced trucker. What made this situation even more deadly was that it was an inexperienced immigrant driver from Cuba who knew very little about our roads and traffic. “

Subia added that LULAC hoped Governor Jared Polis would commute the “unusually harsh” sentence.

“King abused her authority when she brought numerous criminal charges against Mederos, who was driving a faulty vehicle,” said LULAC President Domingo Garcia. “However, no criminal liability has been held against the owner of the trucking company or the person responsible for maintaining the safety equipment of the truck.”

King has filed a motion asking Jones to reconsider sentencing in the Aguilera-Mederos case, but it’s unclear what the outcome might be.

“I think, frankly, (the king) was caught off guard,” former state representative Joe Salazar, a Democrat from Thornton who spoke at the rally, told Newsline. “They failed to realize the international public outcry that would ensue following their indictment rulings.”

Salazar said he was supportive of King and called her “friend”.

“I hope she will sit down with her staff and start talking about ‘Look, we have to be a lot more thoughtful about our billing decisions than we have been,'” said Salazar.

“Shocking and unfair”

A Change.org petition asking Polis to grant Aguilera-Mederos clemency, or commute his sentence, had 4.7 million signatures, and on Wednesday.

“This case proves the blatant unfairness of the justice system,” Garcia said. “Historically, courts treat black and brown defendants more harshly but exonerate whites of all guilt. Mederos became an example for refusing to accept a lesser plea deal because he genuinely believed he had committed no crime.

Outrage escalated on Monday when Kayla Wildeman, a deputy prosecutor who worked on the Aguilera-Mederos case, posted on Facebook a photo of a semi-trailer brake shoe she allegedly received as a trophy after the guilty verdict. A screenshot of the message shows that the brake shoe has an attached plate engraved with the words “I-70 Case” and the case number.

“To make any mockery or to behave as if it were a ball game between winning and losing is an outrage,” Leonard Martinez, counsel for Aguilera-Mederos, said in a subsequent statement. “It was about four people who lost their lives and another person facing 110 years in prison.”

Model and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian West weighed in on Twitter on Tuesday.

Kardashian West, an advocate for criminal justice reforms, told his 70 million Twitter followers that Aguilera-Mederos was not drunk or under the influence of drugs when he caused the fatal crash.

“Another shocking and unfair aspect of this case is that the judge did not want to sentence him to such a long sentence,” she added. “However, because of the mandatory minimum sentences in Colorado, his hands were tied. Mandatory minimum sentences take away judicial discretion and must end. “

Movement towards reform

At Wednesday’s rally, State Senator Julie Gonzales, a Democrat from Denver, said lawmakers were working to craft criminal sentencing reforms that would eliminate mandatory sentencing enhancements like the ones Aguilera-Mederos brought down. been faced.

“When we come back to do our job in January, that’s part of our upcoming job,” Gonzales said. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed bipartisan legislation to overhaul and restructure sentencing laws for misdemeanors, after months of deliberation by the Sentencing Reform Task Force. The next big job for the group is to do the same for the felony conviction work.

“The Sentencing Reform Task Force is made up of people from across the criminal justice system,” Gonzales told Newsline. This includes representatives from the Department of Corrections, the Parole Board, victims’ rights organizations and organizations serving formerly incarcerated people, as well as prominent defense attorney Rick Kornfeld and the 20th District Attorney. of the Judicial District Michael Dougherty.

“We split into different working groups to sort out some issues,” she explained. “First, the sentencing grids as to whether someone is convicted of a sixth degree or fifth degree or fourth degree felony, what should the sentence ranges be? What should be the penalties for each particular level of infringement? “

The job involves reviewing state laws and mapping offenses on grids.

“There are general sentences, there are also drug-specific sentence tables, as well as a few other tables,” Gonzales said, “which are important, complicated, nuanced, and require a lot of thought and deliberation.”

While the task force hopes to complete its work on criminal sentencing reforms during the 2022 legislative session, Gonzales said it may take longer.

She pointed out that the crime reform bill she sponsored with Republican Senator Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs was over 300 pages long.

“There are more nuances and more complications when it comes to the crimes,” Gonzales said. “It’s about having these conversations with everyone involved so that we have the right policy. “

Meanwhile, LULAC announced on Wednesday that Garcia had met with Polis to discuss the possibility of a pardon for Aguilera-Mederos.

“We had a very open and candid conversation about a way forward that recognizes the lives lost, those injured and what is right for the man convicted in this tragic accident,” Garcia said in a statement. “Our message to Governor Polis is clear: This is a case of tragedy turning into a blatant injustice to the Colorado criminal justice system. “



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