DENVER — Dozens of people gathered on the steps of the Colorado Capitol Wednesday for a rally to demand justice for Rogel Aguilera-Mederos.
Aguilera-Mederos is the truck driver who was convicted of killing four people and injuring others in a crash on I-70 in April 2019 after losing control of his semi-truck. He was sentenced to 110 years in prison for the crash, a sentence that has garnered national and even international attention.
Community activists, current and former lawmakers and the family of Aguilera-Mederos addressed the crowd at the rally about the steps they are taking to try to help.
The Democratic Latino Caucus signed a petition, along with members of the Black Caucus and other elected officials, and sent it to Gov. Jared Polis asking him to take a closer look at this case.
“Whether that’s clemency in the form of a partial commutation or some other action, we’re asking that Governor Polis review that case,” said state Sen. Julie Gonzales.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), meanwhile, met with Polis at the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday to make their plea on behalf of Aguilera-Mederos.
“What happened was tragic, and we believe that he’s a victim of malicious prosecution,” said LULAC president, Domingo Garcia. “We had a very productive meeting. I articulated the reasons that we believe Mr. Aguilera-Mederos should receive either a pardon or commuted sentence.”
Despite a jury finding Aguilera-Mederos guilty, and despite the president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association acknowledging that the brake failure was a human and not mechanical error, Garcia believes this should have been a civil case, not a criminal one. He believes the harsh charges and sentence were a symptom of racial injustice in the judicial system.
“To prosecute him and kind of make an example out of him, I don’t think would’ve happened number one if he wasn’t a Latino and number two if he wasn’t an immigrant," Garcia said. "I think race played a role in this."
Garcia says the governor seemed receptive to their concerns. An application for clemency was filed this week. The governor’s team denied Denver7's request for an interview or comment.
At the rally Wednesday, Oslaida Mederos, Aguilera-Mederos’ mother, spoke to the crowd in Spanish, saying she hasn’t been able to see or speak with her son and just wants him home. She told reporters afterward that Aguilera-Mederos’ son misses him and asks where he is every day.
While his family, lawyers and community groups plead for clemency, state lawmakers are taking a look at the bigger picture when it comes to sentencing laws.
“When you hear a judge say, ‘This is not the sentence I would give,’ we have a problem, and it’s something that we are all committed to addressing and making sure in the future we don’t have situations like this,” said state Rep. Alex Valdez.
He stressed that it’s important to keep the families of the victims who died in the crash in mind throughout this conversation of sentencing fairness and said everyone has a different opinion of what should be considered a fair sentence.
In the end, Valdez says he doesn’t want to see the judicial system create another victim through unfair policies.
“We need to make sure that our judicial officials have the discretion to do the right thing where they see fit because they are our experts and we rely on them," he said. "Now as far as what our role is as state legislators is, it’s to make sure that they have those tools."
A bipartisan legislative sentencing reform task force that was formed by the governor has been discussing major changes to felony laws for a year and a half. That same task force was behind last year's bipartisan legislation that reformed misdemeanor crime laws.
“Right now our felony sentencing structures are confusing, complicated and often times don’t allow the judges that nuance that they need in order to make appropriate determinations for sentences in those cases,” said Gonzales, who is a member of the task force.
Gonzales says she's not focused on trying to rush together a bill to introduce on the first day of the legislative session. Instead, she wants to continue thoughtful and deliberate conversations with all stakeholder to figure out a way to reform Colorado’s laws.
“There is a lot of work to be done and making sure that we’re striking the right balance so that there is clarity and truth in those sentence structures,” she said.