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Editorial: Cuban-American truck driver’s 110-year sentence is unjust—it’s not too late for the judge to reconsider his sentence

Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos should not be left to languish in a prison cell for the next century

December 22, 2021 8:32pm

Updated: December 22, 2021 9:25pm

For the moment, Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, a 23-year old Cuban-American truck driver has been sentenced to 110-years in prison because of a tragic accident. On April 15, 2019, Aguilera lost control of his semi while speeding on a highway in Colorado and unintentionally caused a pileup wreck that killed four people and seriously injured several others.

In court, Aguilera broke into tears and implied that if he had the opportunity to trade his life for those who died he would.

“It hurts. I ask God too many times why them and not me? Why did I survive that accident?” he asked when he addressed the court during his sentencing. The judge, Bruce A. Jones also expressed sadness, saying that although he felt Aguilera could have done some things to help avoid the collisions—such as using the freeway’s runaway ramp—he acknowledged the accident was just that—an accident.

Jones did not want to sentence Aguilera to 110-years in prison and make him spend the rest of his life behind bars, but under Colorado law, Jones said he had no choice.

“If I had the discretion… I would not run those sentences consecutively,” he explained to Aguilera’s attorneys who made a passionate plea for the court to show mercy on their client.

The key word in the judge’s comment is “consecutively.” A consecutive sentence means that if a defendant has been convicted of more than one crime, they have to serve each sentence, one after another instead of concurrently. Therefore, four convictions punishable with 20-year sentences each would have to be served over 80 years instead of 20-years at the same time.

Many sentences are often served concurrently to give defendants a chance to pay their debt to society while still having a chance to live some of their life outside of prison. However, some states and even federal law now require a mandatory minimum amount of time be served for specific crimes, and in some cases, that those sentences run consecutively, not concurrently.

This may be understandable for crimes of intentional violence such as murder, armed robbery, and sexual assault. However, with unintentional crimes—even those that negligently or recklessly cause injuries and wrongful deaths, this seems unjust.

So far, there are nearly five million signatures on a petition asking Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to commute Aguilera’s sentence or grant him a pardon. Even some of the family members of those who died have expressed compassion for the young Cuban-American now facing a grueling, life prison sentence.

But the governor is not the only one who can help Aguilera in this tragic situation. Colorado law allows Judge Jones to reconsider his sentence after Aguilera has served three months in prison and he has received a special report from the correction facility in which he will be jailed. Since Aguilera has no prior felony convictions, Judge Jones could change Aguilera’s sentences to run concurrently at the same time and even convert the prison time to probation.

Fortunately, Alexis King, the District Attorney who prosecuted this case has said she is open to such ‘reconsideration’ and the Denver Post reported today that she is aiming to file a motion with the court on the matter.

It is not our place to suggest exactly what sentence Aguilera deserves because that is the judge’s decision. However, as a news organization, we believe it is our duty to raise awareness about what the sentence should not be. Injustice is easy to recognize.

Aguilera made some unfortunate decisions in a fleeting moment of panic. Sadly, people died. This should not be dismissed or forgotten. However, it would be cruel and harsh to suggest these facts mean this apologetic young man should also be ‘forgotten’ and left to languish in a prison cell for the next century. We hope Judge Jones reconsiders Aguilera’s sentence and gives him a second chance to live a productive life—and having learned from his mistakes, make the world a better place for others.