A truck driver sentenced to 110 years for an explosive crash that killed four people in suburban Denver moved a step closer Monday to potentially having his prison term reduced.
Judge Bruce Jones scheduled a hearing for Jan. 13 to reconsider Rogel Aguilera-Mederos' sentence following widespread outrage over the severity of his punishment and an unusual request by prosecutors to revisit the matter.
During a virtual hearing to discuss the request, one of Aguilera-Mederos’ lawyers, James Colgan, said the defense needed some time to do research to see if there were any similar cases that could help guide its approach.
Jones also said he wanted to learn more about whether the law that allowed him to reconsider the sentence gave him discretion to set whatever sentence he wanted.
Get a weekly recap of the latest San Francisco Bay Area housing news. Sign up for NBC Bay Area’s Housing Deconstructed newsletter.
He said victims would be able to speak at the in-person hearing about whether Aguilera-Mederos should be resentenced. But he noted he did not want them to go through that stress unless they wished to.
“I am a captive audience if they want to speak to me,” he said.
Around 5 million people have signed an online petition seeking clemency for Aguilera-Mederos. In addition to the prosecution's request to lower the sentence, Aguilera-Mederos has requested clemency from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
Last week, District Attorney Alexis Kingsaid in a statement she would seek a term of 20 to 30 years in the 2019 wreck on Interstate 70 west of Denver. She said that sentencing range reflects an “appropriate outcome” for Aguilera-Mederos' conduct, saying that the crash was not an accident.
After Monday's hearing, King said her office made the reconsideration request to give the court the ability to impose a sentence not bound by the state's mandatory sentencing laws. She said the judge, knowing the case well, was in the best position to decide a new sentence and urged people to be patient as the court process plays out.
Jones imposed the 110-year sentence against Aguilera-Mederos on Dec. 13 after finding it was the mandatory minimum term set forth under state law.
“I will state that if I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence,” the judge said during the hearing.
Leonard Martinez, another lawyer for Aguilera-Mederos, has said the district attorney's new requested sentencing range is not consistent with similar cases in Colorado and the United States.
Colorado law allows for sentences for crimes deemed violent to be modified in cases with “unusual and extenuating circumstances,” but those sentences cannot take effect until 119 days after a person enters prison. King and defense lawyers believe Jones can impose a new, reduced sentence before that and have it take effect later.
Aguilera-Mederos testified that he was hauling lumber when the brakes on his semitrailer failed as he was descending a steep grade of Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountain foothills on April 25, 2019. His truck plowed into vehicles that had slowed because of another wreck, setting off a chain-reaction wreck and a fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.
He wept as he apologized to the victims’ families at his Dec. 13 sentencing.
"When I look at my charges, we are talking about a murderer, which is not me,” he said. “I have never thought about hurting anybody in my entire life.”
Prosecutors argued he should have used a runaway ramp designed for such situations. Aguilera-Mederos, for his part, said he was struggling to avoid traffic and trying to shift to slow down.
The crash killed 24-year-old Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 67-year-old William Bailey, 61-year-old Doyle Harrison and 69-year-old Stanley Politano. Relatives of victims supported at least some prison time at his sentencing hearing.