Rogel Aguilera-Mederos gets new hearing. JeffCo DA will ask judge to shorten 110-year sentence

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Yoel Varela Diaz speaks during a rally for Rogel Aguilera-Mederos on the Colorado State Capitol steps. Dec. 22, 2021.

UPDATED at 5:40 p.m. on December 23: Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King plans to ask a state judge on Monday to reduce trucker Rogel Aguilera-Mederos' sentence from 110 years to 20 to 30 years.

The trucker was sentenced to a more-than-life sentence for a 2019 crash on Interstate 70 eastbound that killed four people. King said she came to the conclusion after consulting with victims and victims' families all week.

"As the jury found, Mr. Aguilera-Mederos knowingly made multiple active choices that resulted in the death of four people, serious injuries to others, and mass destruction," King said, in a statement. "This sentencing range reflects an appropriate outcome for that conduct, which was not an accident."

The hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m.

In a statement released Thursday, Aguilera-Mederos' attorney, Leonard Martinez, said the sentence was still not consistent with what other people face for more callous crimes.

“We plan to move forward and to keep all options open in achieving Justice for Rogel, including the possibility of clemency from Governor Polis," Martinez said.

Our original story follows below.

A Jefferson County Judge has granted a reconsideration hearing for Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, a 26 year-old Texas truck driver who was sentenced to 110 years in prison for an crash he caused in 2019 that killed four people.

District Court Judge Bruce Jones said in a filing that on Monday both prosecutors and defense attorneys should be “prepared to address the appropriate timing of a sentence modification hearing.” 

The judge’s decision comes after Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King filed two formal requests for reconsideration on Aguilera-Medero’s steep sentence in the last week —  including one filed Tuesday requesting another hearing be expedited. 

The Aguilera-Mederos story has drawn international attention to Colorado’s mandatory sentencing minimums — the reason why Aguilera-Mederos received more than life in prison. 

Earlier this month, at the time of Aguilera-Mederos’ sentencing, the judge said he didn’t have much choice because the man was convicted of first-degree assault and attempted first-degree assault — both are classified as crimes of violence that have both a sentencing minimum and  require that multiple convictions are served consecutively.

Advocates point out convicted murderers often receive lesser sentences. 

Case sparks outcry from millions

More than 5 million people have signed a petition calling on Gov. Jared Polis to reduce the sentence — something he confirmed he is considering. Celebrities have also tweeted about it. 

At a rally on Wednesday at the state Capitol, lawmakers vowed to make felony sentencing guidelines more fair and more transparent.

“We’re appreciative of all the attention this case has received because it highlights a stark reality in Colorado because our felony sentencing laws are complicated, cumbersome and oftentimes don’t afford discretion,” said state Sen. Julie Gonzales. She is on a sentencing reform task force that has been meeting for more than a year to evaluate the state’s sentencing grid. “And they’re confusing for everybody.”

Last year, the sentencing task force tackled misdemeanor reform, which passed handily in both chambers and was signed into law by Polis.

Gonzales said she hopes they will have bipartisan success again with felonies — which are thornier because the crimes are more consequential and have more victims. She noted there were a number of unfair sentences being served in Colorado’s prisons that haven’t generated the attention surrounding the Aguilera-Mederos case.

“The petition and the amount of energy that I’ve seen on social media has been incredible,” Gonzales said. “I also believe, though, that it shouldn't take millions of signatures on a petition or celebrities weighing in in order for people to access justice in order for their clemency application to be reviewed.”

Tom Raynes, head of the Colorado District Attorneys Council and also a member of the sentencing reform committee said sentencing minimums, mandatory sentences and judicial discretion are all on the table for consideration —  as are requirements around time served and transparency about how long someone will actually be in prison.

“The task force is diligently reviewing and thoughtfully considering all aspects of sentencing to both ensure certainty and to increase or decrease current penalties where appropriate,” he said. 

Raynes said that while the current sentencing laws are imperfect — lawmakers did build in a relief valve in the form of sentencing reconsideration hearings, which the judge granted Aguilera-Mederos.

“The system hasn’t failed yet,” Raynes said.

The accident and the charges

Aguilera-Mederos was driving on Interstate 70 eastbound from the mountains for the first time in 2019 when he lost his brakes coming down the hill into Lakewood. Aguilera-Mederos told Lakewood Police investigators at the time he shut his eyes as he approached a standstill in traffic because he thought he was going to die careening down the hill at 85 mph. 

He didn’t go into the median, he told police, because he didn’t want to roll the truck. He passed at least two runaway truck ramps, which he didn’t take. His lawyer, Jim Golgan, said he was too overwhelmed to see the ramps. 

Aguilera-Mederos ran into a line of traffic and caused a flaming crash with 28 vehicles, closing the interstate for a day. Four people died and several others were injured.

Aguilera-Mederos was convicted by a jury in October of four counts of vehicular homicide, six counts of first-degree assault, 10 counts of attempted first-degree assault, four counts of careless driving causing death, two counts of vehicular assault and one count of reckless driving.

Golgan said a plea deal was offered by Jefferson County prosecutors, but he wouldn’t discuss what that was. Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King also hasn’t discussed the case. Golgan confirmed he applied for clemency with the governor and that lawyers are weighing whether to appeal the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals. 

‘There is a lot of work to be done’

The family has a new lawyer, Leonard Martinez, who said Wednesday he was working all angles on behalf of his client.

“There is a lot of work to be done. This fight is not just for him, but for all,” he said, addressing about 50 advocates standing on the Capitol’s west steps on Aguilera-Mederos’ behalf. “As his legal team, we aren’t going to stop until we get Rogel home to his family. The sooner the better.”

About 50 advocates on Wednesday carried signs that said “Free Rogel Aguilera” and “Justicia y Libertad.” 

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Oslaida Medero weeps as she speaks to press at a rally for her son, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, on the Colorado State Capitol steps. Dec. 22, 2021.

Many interviewed said what happened in April 2019 was a tragic accident — but not one that should yield more than a life sentence in prison.

“I’m here to support him,” said Yudarqui Fornaris, who traveled from Colorado Springs after hearing about the story on Univision. “It was an accident.”

Aguilera-Mederos’ mother, Oslaida Mederos, who came in from Texas for the rally sobbed in front of news microphones saying, “mi hijo, mi hijo” repeatedly. 

Advocates translating for her called on the injustices —  particularly among people of color —  in Colorado’s criminal justice system.

“For an individual and his family who is Spanish speaking, who is Latino … to feel sometimes they can’t get a fair day in court,” Gonzales said. “That’s why our work is so important … I understand why there are so many people who are outraged, who think this is a clear indication of racial disparities. The actual fact of the matter is that in this case it has more to do with our mandatory minimum sentencing laws. But it is absolutely real to acknowledge that there are racial disparities that exist in Colorado and we all have to do work.”

Editor's note: This article and its headline have been updated to reflect new developments from the Jefferson County District Attorney's office.