By Amy Berberyan and Darling Gonzalez
DENVER, CO – Just before New Year’s Eve day, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis released a clemency letter granting commutation to Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos—who had been sentenced to 110 years in prison for a vehicle crash on Interstate 70 west of Denver that killed four people in April of 2019.
Aguilera-Mederos claimed the brakes of his truck had not been working during the incident, leading him to crash into cars that were stopped because of another collision, according to an article by USA Today’s Celina Tebor.
Aguilera-Mederos, however, was still found guilty on four counts of vehicular homicide and 23 other charges and was sentenced to 110 years in prison in December.
Following his sentencing, many people who learned about his case felt the sentence was unjust for the crime committed.
In fact, the case had such a profound effect on people around the world that they began a petition on Change.org where more than five million people signed a petition to reduce his jail sentence.
Nonetheless, Colorado Gov. Polis released a clemency letter last Thursday granting Aguilera-Mederos a reduced sentence from 110 years to 10 years in prison.
“Though your actions have caused immense pain,” Polis wrote to Aguilera-Mederos, “I am encouraged by your personal reflection and the commercial vehicle safety changes that were made in the wake of this tragedy to ensure this type of event never happens again.
“After learning about the highly atypical and unjust sentence in your case,” wrote Gov. Polis, “I am commuting your sentence to 10 years and granting you parole eligibility on December 30, 2026.”
Governor Polis stressed that his decision is “based solely on the circumstances of [Aguilera-Mederos’] case,” and proceeded to list several reasons why he believed the truck driver deserved clemency.
The first reason was that Aguilera-Mederos’ original 110-year sentence—which equated to more than a life sentence—was unfitting for “a tragic but unintentional act.”
While Gov. Polis acknowledged that Aguilera-Mederos was not entirely blameless, he said the sentence was “disproportionate compared with many other inmates in [the] criminal justice system who committed intentional, premeditated, or violent crimes.
“Your highly unusual sentence highlights the lack of uniformity between sentences for similarly situated crimes,” said Gov. Polis, “which is particularly true when individuals are charged with offenses that require mandatory minimum sentences.”
Though he said he hopes the case will instigate conversation about sentencing laws, the governor acknowledged that “any subsequent changes to the law would not retroactively impact [Aguilera-Mederos’] sentence,” resulting in his decision to grant the limited commutation.
The governor said that there was “an urgency to remedy this unjust sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of [the] criminal justice system.”
After charging the “arbitrary and unjust sentence was the result of a law of Colorado passed by the legislature and signed by a prior governor and is not the fault of the judge who handed down the mandatory sentence required by the law,” Polis concluded that it was his job “to take action to ensure that justice is served in this case.
“I am doing so today with this limited commutation,” said the governor.
He called on the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) to continue “[studying], [discussing], and [providing] recommendations on, among other things, a guideline approach to structuring dispositions as well as ensuring consistency in the application of sentencing guidelines that mitigate the effects of individual discretion by system actors” in order to ensure “greater consistency in sentencing to prevent future bizarre outcomes like the one in this case.”
Mountain Rules was launched by the Colorado Department of Public Safety (DPS) in an effort to “keep the commercial motor vehicle industry informed of traffic alerts” through the use of subscriptions that will “notify drivers of steep grades, locations of runaway truck ramps, and areas for break checks and cooling.”
In addition to this development, DPS has created and put into practice technology that will work to measure and detect hot brakes along the I-70 corridor.
Gov. Polis encouraged Aguilera-Mederos to “take additional responsibility for [his] actions by seeking restorative justice opportunities to address [his] obligations to those who suffered loss and repair the needs of the community due to [his] carelessness.
“You have wondered why your life has been spared when other lives were taken,” Polis wrote. “You will struggle with this burden for the rest of your life, but never forget that because of this event, countless others will struggle with the loss of their loved ones or injuries as well.
“And you will serve your just sentence,” the governor concluded.