Judge sets hearing to reconsider trucker’s 110-year sentence. 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 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.
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.
About 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, Dist. Atty. Alexis King said in a statement that 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, noting 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 crash 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.
As the Omicron variant spreads gloom around the globe ahead of New Year’s Eve, governments are moving at various speeds to contain the scourge, with some reimposing restrictions immediately and others hesitating to spoil the party again.
In Britain, where the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus has sent caseloads soaring to record highs, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Monday that no further restrictions will be introduced in England before the new year. New daily infections in England are hovering around 100,000, and hospital admissions on Christmas were up more than 70% from a week earlier.
“When we get into the new year, of course, we will see then if we do need to take any further measures, but nothing more until then, at least,” Javid said.
Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, nightclubs have been ordered closed, and limits on gatherings have been imposed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, has shut down all nonessential stores, restaurants and bars and extended the school holidays in what largely amounts to a new lockdown. In Belgium, new measures went into effect over the weekend and Monday: Shopping in large groups was banned, and movie theaters and concert halls closed in the middle of the holiday season.
In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a set of restrictions to kick in next week, after New Year’s Day. Among them: Big events will be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 outdoors; eating and drinking will be banned in theaters, at sports venues and on public transportation; and working from home will be mandatory at least three days a week for employees whose jobs make it possible. Next month, France will vote on a bill to create a vaccine pass that will allow only inoculated people to enter public places, including restaurants, bars and movie theaters.
The measures come after France for the first time recorded more than 100,000 coronavirus infections in a single day.
In the U.S., the Biden administration has emphasized the importance of vaccinations, boosters and rapid testing.
New York City’s sweeping mandate requiring nearly all businesses to bar unvaccinated employees from the workplace took effect Monday; the measure was announced three weeks ago, soon after Omicron gained a foothold in the U.S.