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Judge to reconsider trucker's 110-year sentence in January

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos.png
Posted at 9:51 AM, Dec 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-27 19:45:21-05

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — A judge on Monday set a hearing to reconsider the 110-year prison sentence of a trucker for an explosive crash that killed four people in suburban Denver.

In October, a Jefferson County jury found Rogel Aguilera-Mederos guilty of the most serious charges he faced for his actions in the April 2019 crash.

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.

The jury found Aguilera-Mederos guilty on all four counts of vehicular homicide and all six counts of first-degree assault he faced after hours of deliberations. He was also convicted on multiple counts of careless driving, reckless driving, and vehicular assault, though the jury found he was not guilty on several counts of attempted first-degree assault.

He was sentenced to 110 years in December, a result of the state's mandatory minimum sentencing rules.

The sentence given to Rogel Aguilera-Mederos has drawn outrage from around the country and among truck drivers, with around five million people signing an online petition seeking clemency for him. Judge A. Bruce Jones said his hands were tied when it came to sentencing because of mandatory minimum laws in the state.

READ MORE: Dozens hold rally at Colorado Capitol to demand justice for Rogel Aguilera-Mederos

On Dec. 21, the Colorado First Judicial District Attorney's Office filed a motion to reconsider the sentence. Days later, District Attorney Alexis King announced her office would ask the court to reduce Aguilera-Mederos' sentence to 20 to 30 years.

Cameras were not allowed to record Monday's meeting, which happened online, but in it Judge Jones questioned the legal precedent that could be set by this case. He could not find any precedent in his research for the prosecution requesting this expedited hearing. Normally, it is the judge or the defense who requests this type of hearing.

Judge Jones also had questions about whether moving forward with this hearing would waive the defendant's right to file for an appeal under the 35B rule.

“The idea of me prospectively modifying the sentence and then the case being up on appeal is troubling to me conceptually," Judge Jones said during the hearing.

Defense attorney James Colgan echoed the judge's concern and asked for more time to fully research what moving forward with this hearing would mean.

Judge Jones asked the prosecution and defense to weigh in on the new sentence range, saying it is troubling that he had no discretion to impose a sentence he thought was fit during the last hearing but will have near total discretion at the upcoming one.

The new hearing is scheduled for January 13 at 1:30 p.m. Victims will have a chance to speak once again at the hearing but will not be required to. Judge Jones said he understands how traumatizing the last hearing was for the victims and families, and he doesn't want to put them through that again if they don't want to speak.

On the other hand, the judge has not determined yet whether he will allow anyone other than counsel to speak on behalf of the defense. The defense asked to bring in new witnesses, but they will be allowed only if the defense can prove they are allowed under the law.

After the hearing, King held a brief press conference to explain why she requested the expedited resentencing hearing.

"This is an exceptional case, and it requires an exceptional process," she said. "In finding its verdict, the jury recognized the extreme nature of the defendant’s conduct which warrants a prison sentence. The defendant caused the death of four people and serious bodily injury to two others, and the impact of his truck caused damage to many more in our community."

King did not take any questions during the briefing.

READ MORE: Prosecutor in Rogel Aguilera-Mederos case shares photo of brake shoe, calls it a 'memento'

In addition to the prosecution’s request to lower the sentence, Aguilera-Mederos has requested clemency from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

Outside the courthouse, dozens of protests wearing t-shirts and holding signs chanted and called for a different sentence. Victims' families, meanwhile, tell Denver7 they feel that they are being forgotten in all of the national and international attention that this case has garnered.

"It’s so close to you and having so many people who have no idea what they’re talking about taking over the narrative is very painful," said Duane Bailey, who lost his brother, Bill, in the crash.

He described the last two weeks as being nearly as difficult as the first days after finding out his brother had passed away.

Bailey said he is upset at the media coverage of the case and the petition that's circulating online, saying it's full of misinformation. He wanted to reiterate some of the facts of the case, like the fact that Aguilera-Mederos lied on his job application and misrepresented his driving experience, or the fact that Aguilera-Mederos knew something was wrong with his brakes and called his brother for advice.

"He’s not the victim," Bailey said. "This crash killed four people, four good people."

He was not aware that Aguilera-Mederos would be sentenced to 110 years in prison and said he agrees that it is too harsh of a punishment.

"They had been telling us 50 to 60 years, honestly, before, and I thought that was too long even then," Bailey said. "Nobody wants him to spend the rest of his life in jail."

Nevertheless, he says some type of punishment is necessary for the damage Aguileera-Medreos caused that day.

The victims' families met with Polis recently to discuss the application for clemency. Bailey says the governor made it clear that he felt the sentence was too severe, and he wanted to intervene. In an interview with CNN, Bailey said he asked the governor to "stay out of this."

"You need to stay out of this until at least after (the hearing)," he said. "If he (Polis) doesn’t, I guarantee you he’s bowing to political pressure, and are we going to allow the political pressure and social media to start defining our judicial system? I think that’s an extremely dangerous precedent to set."

During Monday's hearing, defense attorney Leonard Martinez told the court they had met with the governor as well to discuss the case. Polis also met with a Latino organization advocating for Aguiler-Mederos last week.

"As part of the process for all clemency applications, the administration is consulting with all the parties involved," a spokesperson with the governor's office said.

It is unclear whether the governor will take steps to intervene in the 110-year sentence at this point.