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Colorado governor reduces truck driver’s sentence to 10 years from 110; pardons 1,315 people for marijuana possession

Four people died in 2019 when an out-of-control semi crashed into them
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference Feb. 26 in Denver. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)

Gov. Jared Polis is reducing the sentence of a truck driver whose semi-truck caused a fiery chain-reaction crash on Interstate 70 that killed four people in 2019.

The governor said Thursday he would reduce the sentence for Rogel Aguilera-Mederos to 10 years, from the 110 years handed down by a judge in December that caused a national outcry.

Polis also granted 1,315 pardons for people convicted of possessing 2 ounces or less of marijuana.

The sentence reduction for Aguilera-Mederos comes after Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King asked for a resentencing hearing last week. The hearing was set after protests over the severity of the original sentence.

The long sentence was the result of charges brought by the district attorney’s office that carried mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, with the long prison terms to be served back-to-back, not concurrently.

The 10-year sentence is less than the 20 to 30 years King had said she’d seek.

A relative of Aguilera-Mederos’ lawyer works in the governor’s office, a news release announcing the clemency decisions said.

“This individual had absolutely no involvement in the commutation process and works in an unrelated capacity to this matter, and was not aware of the governor’s decision in advance,” the news release said.

Polis declined to discuss his decisions with The Colorado Sun on Thursday.

“We don’t ever talk about that,” he said of his clemency decisions, speaking to a reporter before a news conference in Boulder.

Aguilera-Mederos was convicted in October of vehicular homicide and other charges. The accident occurred when the brakes failed on the semi he was driving, sending it crashing into other vehicles slowed for a different accident. Prosecutors said he should have used a runaway truck ramp.

“You were sentenced to 110 years in prison, effectively more than a life sentence, for a tragic but unintentional act,” Polis wrote in a letter to Aguilera-Mederos. “While you are not blameless, your sentence is disproportionate compared with many other inmates in our criminal justice system who committed intentional, premeditated or violent crimes.”

About 5 million people signed a change.org petition asking for a lesser sentence for Aguilera-Mederos, who is 26.

As part of his letter granting clemency to Aguilera-Mederos, Polis called on the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to work on recommendations to “ensure greater consistency in sentencing to prevent future bizarre outcomes like the one in this case.”

He also called on Aguilera-Mederos to be accountable for his actions and seek “restorative justice opportunities to address your obligations to those who suffered loss and to repair the needs of the community due to your carelessness.”

King, the district attorney, said in a written statement that she was “disappointed in the Governor’s decision to act prematurely.”

“I joined the surviving victims and families of those who lost their loved ones in their wish to have the trial judge determine an appropriate sentence in this case, as he heard the facts and evidence of the defendant’s destructive conduct that led to death, injury and devastating destruction,” the statement said. ”We are meeting with the victims and their loved ones this evening to support them in navigating this unprecedented action and to ensure they are treated with fairness, dignity and respect during this difficult time. We look forward to sharing more information with our community that we were ethically prohibited from releasing while the case was pending.”

In addition to granting clemency to Aguilera-Mederos, Polis also reduced sentences for two others and granted individual pardons to 15 more.

The pardons for marijuana offenses are the result of a years-long effort to mitigate the consequences of convictions for cannabis crimes that, post-legalization, are no longer illegal in Colorado.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature approved a law allowing people to apply for pardons for past marijuana offenses that would now be legal. In 2020, the Legislature passed a law giving the governor the authority to grant pardons to a class of defendants who were convicted of the possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana. It was under this authority that the governor granted the 1,315 marijuana pardons on Thursday.

“Adults can legally possess marijuana in Colorado, just as they can beer or wine,” Polis said in a statement. “It’s unfair that 1,351 additional Coloradans had permanent blemishes on their record that interfered with employment, credit and gun ownership, but today we have fixed that by pardoning their possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.