BLACK HAWK, Colo. (KDVR) — When Joshua Cuellar was re-sentenced in July for a 2018 sexual assault, it wasn’t to give him more punishment — it was to give him less.
The 41-year-old was originally sentenced to 90 days in jail, two years of work release and 20 years of sex offender intensive supervision probation after his trial in June 2020.
In the resentencing, the judge removed the work release because Gilpin County Jail told the courts COVID-19 was preventing it from offering that as an option.
“It does hurt to have something so horrific happen, and 90 days in jail and because of COVID we’re going to throw way the rest. I’ve heard of a lot of excuses COVID has been used for, but not getting off for rape,” said the survivor of Cuellar’s sexual assault, who asked FOX31 to protect her identity.
‘I felt safe and comfortable with him’
The crime happened in January 2018 when Cuellar invited a long-time friend to gamble with him at the Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk.
It was late at night, so the victim agreed to share a hotel room with Cuellar, something she said she felt comfortable with because he had spent the night on her sofa in the past and nothing had happened.
“It was nothing out of the ordinary. Like, we had been friends for like probably eight years, worked together at two different restaurants. So, I felt safe and comfortable with him,” the survivor said.
But surveillance video obtained by the Problem Solvers shows Cueller grabbing the woman’s butt as they checked in at the front lobby.
The woman said she remembers Cueller making sexual comments including, “Now that I paid for the room, you owe me.”
She brushed it off a dumb joke, but minutes after they entered the hotel room, she said Cuellar tore of her clothes and sexually assaulted her for 45 minutes.
“It was very traumatic, painful. It was very aggressive,” she said.
As soon as Cuellar returned to the casino, the victim called police.
According to the arrest affidavit, Cuellar told police in the casino nothing happened — that he’d only been in the room for a few minutes when he left the victim to sleep while he went to gamble.
But surveillance video in the hotel hallway showed a timestamp when the two entered the room and when Cueller left alone. The timeline backed up the victim’s account.
Her testimony and documented bruises, along with his DNA, led a Gilpin County jury to convict Cueller in March 2019.
Reliving the attack during trial
The Colorado statute for sexual assault with force recommends a prison term of four to 12 years. Instead, the judge sentenced Cuellar to 90 days in the county jail followed by two years of work release and 20 years of probation.
“It was a rough trial. So, to go through that and really feel like it didn’t mean anything, you know, was another assault basically,” the victim said.
When investigative reporter Rob Low asked if she worried a 90-day jail sentence and probation might discourage other survivors from coming forward, she replied, “I do, yeah. Absolutely.”
“I’m sure that he feels like he’s gotten off easy,” she said.
The Problem Solvers spoke to Cuellar on his front porch for 20 minutes, but afterward, he asked us not to use his recorded interview.
Cuellar’s sentence includes what’s called an intensive supervision probation that will last at least 20 years. He must register as a sex offender, check in weekly with his probation officer, undergo two random drug screenings per month, isn’t allowed a smart phone or internet access and has a 6 p.m. curfew.
A pre-sentence report obtained by the Problem Solvers found Cuellar was “probation eligible” because he had no prior felonies, though he does have three convictions related to driving under the influence.
The sexual assault survivor said she felt like the judge was more concerned with Cuellar’s feelings and his future without considering the impact the sentence had on her.
“It’s a tough process to go through. I mean, tough is putting it lightly. For this to be the end result, like, was it worth it? I don’t know,” she said.
DA’s office calls sentencing ‘disappointing’
The Problem Solvers reached out to trial judge Todd Vriesman, who sentenced Cuellar, but were told by a spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Department that Vriesman is unable to comment on the case outside of what he said during the sentencing hearing.
The District Attorney’s Office for the First Judicial District, which covers Jefferson and Gilpin counties, shared the following statement with FOX31:
“We are deeply disappointed with the fact that Mr. Cuellar will not be facing prison time for this horrific sexual assault. Unfortunately, this is too common across Colorado as 70% of individuals who commit the most egregious sex offenses in our state are sentenced back into our neighborhoods. Our justice system must recognize the risk to our communities and hold offenders accountable to protect victims and prevent future harm.”
The Blue Bench, a Denver-area organization dedicated to survivors of sexual assault shared the following statement with FOX31:
“We are discouraged with the judge’s decision on behalf of the brave survivor who came forward seeking justice and healing and who does not feel that justice has been served. However, we know that this situation is not uncommon. In fact, a vast majority of sexual assault perpetrators will not spend a single day in jail. The lack of accountability often sends the message to survivors that what happened to them is not being taken seriously. For anybody impacted by this news, our 24/7 hotline is available at 303-322-7273 for English or 303-329-0031 for Spanish.”