GOLDEN, Colo. (KDVR) — A Jefferson County judge has delivered a not so thinly-veiled swipe at Gov. Jared Polis for his timing in commuting the sentence of the Interstate 70 truck driver who killed four people in a crash.
The move follows the governor’s announcement on Thursday afternoon, as fires raged across Boulder County, to reduce the 110-year sentence of Rogel Aguilera-Mederos to 10 years.
In a brief order vacating the re-sentencing hearing of Aguilera-Mederos set for Jan. 13, trial Judge Bruce Jones wrote:
While the Court has not received a formal notification, news reports confirm that the Governor commuted Defendant’s sentence to ten years in the Department of Corrections.
The court respects the authority of the Governor to do so. Based on the timing of the decision, however, it appears this respect is not mutual.
The Court again extends its condolences to the families of those who died, to those who were injured, and to all were traumatized because of the events on I-70 on April 25, 2019.Judge Bruce Jones
When Jones wrote “respect is not mutual,” he was likely referring to the fact that the governor chose to act Dec. 30, before the Judge could hold a resentencing hearing just two weeks later on Jan. 13.
‘He was just as displeased with the governor as we were’
“That’s a pretty bold statement for a judge to make,” said Duane Bailey, whose 67-year old brother died in the I-70 crash.
“Surprised honestly, because for a judge to make a comment like that on the record is pretty rare. That’s a big statement by him stating that he was just as displeased with the governor as we were,” Bailey said.
When Jones sentenced Aguilera-Mederos to 110 years in prison on Dec. 13, he made it no secret that he didn’t like the sentence, but he said that his hands were tied by the Colorado legislature when it passed mandatory minimum sentences on certain counts.
A social media campaign with some 5 million signatures from people outraged over the 110-year sentence led First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King to ask the judge for a rare resentencing hearing.
Now, with Polis commuting the sentence to 10 years, the trial judge has once again been given no discretion to make a sentencing decision and was forced to vacate the hearing.
That’s what Duane Bailey suspects irked the judge.
“He (Polis) said he wanted to restore faith in the judicial system. In our view, he didn’t show any faith in the judicial system because had he had faith in that, he would have let the system play out.”
Why didn’t Polis wait for the hearing?
It’s a sentiment shared by King, the district attorney, who in a Dec. 30 statement said, “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.”
King has made it clear she would have sought a sentence of 20-30 years at a re-sentencing hearing.
“I would have liked at least 20 years, and I also said at that time that I certainly didn’t want him (Aguilera-Mederos) to spend the rest of his life in jail,” said Bailey, who agreed 110 years was too much time for a man who had no criminal intent.
Bailey told FOX31 that if Polis didn’t like whatever sentence the judge determined then he still could have exercised his authority to commute the sentence. He’s bothered by the fact Polis refused to wait two weeks.
“He wouldn’t tell us in his own words why he couldn’t wait two weeks,” Bailey said.
Bailey learned of the decision during a Zoom call with other family members just 90 minutes before the governor issued the commutation. He’s convinced Polis issued his decision as the Boulder fires were peaking to minimize attention and to avoid negative press.
“Fully believe that he set the timing of that release to coincide with the fire so that it would get buried in the news cycle,” said Bailey, before adding, “I don’t think he’s embarrassed by making the decision but I don’t think he wanted the negative press from it.”
Polis did not respond to the judge’s jab when FOX31 asked for comment, but his spokesperson released the following statement:
The judge was forced to give a 110-year sentence due to mandatory sentencing requirements. This individual is guilty and he will go to jail just as others who have committed similar crimes were punished. A 110-year punishment was totally different than what others who committed similar crimes received. There was an urgency to remedy this sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of our criminal justice system.Spokesperson for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis