Why George Brauchler believes Polis was wrong to reduce trucker’s sentence

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENT REPORTER

George Brauchler is the former 18th Judicial District Attorney and was the Republican candidate for Colorado Attorney General in 2018.

On December 13, District Court Judge Bruce Jones sentenced truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos to 110 years in prison for the death of four people who died instantly when the out-of-control truck containing lumber that Aguilera-Mederos was driving lost its brakes and crashed into stopped traffic on Interstate 70 near Colorado Mills on April 25, 2019. In addition to four counts of vehicular manslaughter, Aguilera-Mederos was also found guilty of assault and driving offenses. The trucker was extremely remorseful for what happened and the judge made it clear that the sentence would have been shorter had Colorado law applicable in these circumstances not required consecutive rather than concurrent sentences for conviction on multiple offenses arising from the same act.

Public opinion in favor of a lesser punishment for Aguilera-Mederos swelled immediately. Within two weeks, 5 million people, including many from outside Colorado, had signed an online petition asking for leniency for the trucker. Even the judge and the 1st Judicial District Attorney were on board and on December 27, a hearing in Judge Jones courtroom to reconsider the sentence was scheduled for January 13. 

On December 30, Governor Jared Polis commuted Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence to ten years. He will be eligible for parole after serving five years. The next day, former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler penned a column in the Denver Post criticizing Polis for what he termed a “hasty, poorly-informed, and hyper-political reaction,” that “hijacked the criminal justice system, derailed the judicial process, and violated (Polis’) own posted guidelines about clemency.” To be clear, Brauchler did not disagree that, “the mandated 110-year sentence was excessive.” 

In his talk to the Arapahoe County Republican Breakfast Club on January 5, Brauchler explained his position. “The Department of Corrections has the ability to reduce sentences such that those convicted of crimes of violence can be paroled after serving 50% of their sentence. Those convicted of nonviolent crimes can be paroled after serving one-third of their time,” he said.

Pointing to an earlier situation in which he believes Polis abused his discretion, Brauchler said, “When (former 17th Judicial District
Attorney) Dave Young decided that the Elijah MacLean case could not be proven, eight months later Gov. Polis gave the case to Atty. Gen. Philip Weiser after Change.org got 2 million signatures, and he (Weiser) indicted them on the same charges the truck driver was charged with.”

In September 2021, a grand jury indicted three police officers and two paramedics on 32 total counts, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for each of them, in the August 30, 2019 death of McClain. Some defendants were also charged with assault, as was Aguilera-Mederos. The criminal cases related to Elijah McClain’s treatment and death are pending but the City of Aurora agreed in November to pay $15 million to settle a federal civil rights case brought by McClain’s family.

Brauchler continued, “The district attorney offered the truck driver 20 to 30 years. He rejected that offer even though (conviction on the charges required) mandatory minimum consecutive sentences. When the verdict came in October on 27 counts, they knew then he would get 110 years minimum.” Brauchler pointed to the fact that the trucker’s attorneys did not act on the sentence they knew was coming until after it was pronounced and the public began to weigh in. In Brauchler’s opinion, “Change.org was untrue saying  it was an accident. (Aguilera-Mederos) was found guilty of ‘extreme indifference to the value of human life,’ not negligence or recklessness, by a jury after testifying. After the Change.org petition hit 5 million signatures, Polis came in and reduced the sentenced to 10 years, which is really five. The defendant can still appeal the sentence and get the conviction reversed.”

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