A truck driver convicted in connection with a deadly 2019 car pileup on a Colorado freeway had his lengthy sentence significantly reduced Thursday by 100 years after Gov. Jared Polis commuted punishment in a case that has put sentencing guidelines under a microscope.
Instead of serving 110 years in prison, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos will instead serve 10 years and will be eligible for parole beginning on Dec. 30, 2026. In a letter to Aguilera-Mederos, Polis, a Democrat, called the initial punishment "arbitrary and unjust."
The commutation came after Aguilera-Mederos applied for clemency following his sentence earlier this month on 27 charges, including four counts of vehicular manslaughter. The punishment drew outrage and ignited a petition on Change.org that garnered millions of signatures from people who supported a reduction.
"You were sentenced to 110 years in prison, effectively more than a life sentence, for a tragic but unintentional act," Polis wrote in his letter. "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."
"The length of your 110-year sentence is simply not commensurate with your actions, nor with penalties handed down to others for similar crimes," the governor added. "There is an urgency to remedy this unjust sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of our criminal justice system, and consequently I have chosen to commute your sentence now."
The sentence highlights the lack of uniformity between similar crimes, particularly for suspects charged for offenses that require mandatory minimum sentences, the governor said. He said he hopes the case spurs conversations about sentencing laws.
He further called on the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to review sentencing guidelines to "ensure greater consistency in sentencing to prevent future bizarre outcomes like the one in this case."
Aguilera-Mederos was traveling at about 85 mph on April 26, 2019 before crashing into dozens of stopped cars and causing an explosion on Interstate 70 near Denver. Four people were killed: Doyle Harrison, 61, of Hudson; William Bailey, 67, and Stan Politano, 69, both of Arvada; and 24-year-old Denver resident Miguel Angel Lamas Arrellano.
Fox News has reached out to family members of the victims.
Prosecutors argued that Aguilera-Mederos, 26, who said his brakes failed, could have used several ramps to come to a stop. An arrest affidavit said that he tried pulling over to the shoulder off the road, but another semi was already stopped there.
"I am not a criminal," he tearfully told a judge. "I am not a murderer. I am not a killer. When I look at my charges, we are talking about a murderer, which is not me. I have never thought about hurting anybody in my entire life."
The 110-year sentence was based on mandatory minimum laws that apply to violent crimes. Colorado District Court Judge A. Bruce Jones seemed not to agree with the guidelines, saying he was bound by state laws on mandatory-minimum sentencing that required him to impose the punishment to run consecutively as opposed to concurrently.
Last week, First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King, whose office prosecuted Aguilera-Mederos, took the unusual step of asking a court to reconsider the sentence and impose a more lenient punishment. On Thursday, she decried the governor's actions.
"From the beginning, we have followed the process set forth in the law to reach a just resolution of this case. We are 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."
She said prosecutors were meeting with the victims and their loved ones "to support them in navigating this unprecedented action and to ensure they are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect during this difficult time."
Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West took an interest in the case and called for Polis to end mandatory minimum sentencing, which has led to lengthy sentences that are often disproportionate with the crimes being prosecuted, according to many criminal justice advocates.
"This case was a clear example of why mandatory minimums don’t work and need to be abolished. I’m grateful to Governor Polis for his empathy and leadership on this case," Kardashian West tweeted Thursday.
The commutation was one of three granted by Polis on Thursday. He also granted 15 individual pardons and signed an executive order granting 1,351 pardons for convictions of marijuana possession of two ounces or less.