A US lorry driver whose out-of-control vehicle crashed into traffic, killing four people, has had his 110-year prison sentence reduced to 10 years, after prosecutors in Colorado went back to court this week.
In a commutation letter to the Cuban-born trucker, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 26, Colorado governor Jared Polis said the crash along a mountain highway in April 2019 was a “tragic but unintentional act".
“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 letter said.
Aguilera-Mederos, whose case garnered national attention, with nearly five million people signing an online petition calling for clemency, will now be eligible for parole in five years, the governor said.
Defence lawyer James Colgan said his client was pleased with the news. “He is relieved and very grateful,” Mr Colgan said.
But district attorney Alexis King criticised Mr Polis, saying the governor essentially short-circuited a more deliberative judicial process that prosecutors had begun in consultation with victims' families and survivors.
“We are disappointed in the governor's decision to act prematurely,” Mr King said, adding that a final decision on Aguilera-Mederos's fate should rest with a judge.
Mr King went to court on Monday for a hearing requesting that the 110-year prison term for vehicular homicide imposed under mandatory sentencing rules earlier this month, be reduced to 20 to 30 years.
He argued that leniency was warranted in the absence of any criminal intent.
Aguilera-Mederos was found guilty by a jury in October on four homicide charges and multiple counts of assault and reckless driving.
District Court judge Bruce Jones said when handing down the original sentence on December 13 that he would not have imposed such a lengthy term but for mandatory minimum penalties required under state law.
At the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Aguilera-Mederos, who was hauling a load of lumber, was improperly trained in driving on mountain roads.
He knew the brakes on his vehicle were failing but descended the mountains anyway, prosecutors said, bypassing a runaway truck ramp and crashing into stationary traffic along Interstate 70, west of Denver, when he lost control of the vehicle.
Prosecutors never alleged that Aguilera-Mederos, who had no criminal record, was impaired or had any criminal intent.
At sentencing, Aguilera-Mederos wept as he asked for forgiveness and leniency. “I never thought about hurting anyone in my entire life,” he said.
At Monday's hearing, Mr Jones said it was virtually without precedent for prosecutors, rather than defence attorneys, to seek a reduced sentence in such a case.
The judge ordered both sides to file briefs and set another hearing for January 13, a proceeding apparently rendered moot by the governor's action.
Earlier this week, Mr Colgan called Mr King's motion to seek a reduced sentence “disingenuous”.
“Two weeks ago, they [prosecutors] were perfectly fine with my client getting 110 years until there was a public outcry,” he said. “It’s all political.”
The clemency granted by Mr Polis was one of dozens of year-end commutations and pardons announced on Thursday by the governor, a first-term Democrat.