Crime

Prosecutor in I-70 Truck Driver Case Brags Online About Brake Trophy

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos during an April 2019 court appearance.
Rogel Aguilera-Mederos during an April 2019 court appearance. CBS4 via YouTube
While close to 4.5 million people have signed on to a Change.org petition seeking clemency for truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, who was recently sentenced in Jefferson County to 110 years in prison, those who prosecuted the case are responding much differently.

"Get yourself a trial partner as great as Trevor Moritzky. He turned a brake shoe from a semi truck into a memento. What a special gift from truly a special person," Kayla Wildeman, a prosecutor with the District Attorney's Office for the First Judicial District who was involved in the case, wrote on Facebook above a photo that shows a brake next to a diploma. "I sure am grateful this trial brought you into my career as both a colleague and a friend! Words will never convey how lucky I am to have gotten the opportunity to learn from you!"

According to the Facebook post, Moritzky, a deputy district attorney in the First Judicial District, gifted  colleague Wildeman, also a deputy district attorney, a brake similar to one taken out of the truck that Aguilera-Mederos crashed on I-70 near Colorado Mills Parkway in April 2019.

The crash resulted in four deaths: 24-year-old Denver resident Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano; Doyle Harrison, a 61-year-old from Hudson; 67-year-old Arvadan William Bailey; and Stanley Politano, a 69-year-old who was also from Arvada.

Prosecutors threw the book at Aguilera-Mederos, who was convicted on 27 out of 41 charges stemming from the crash. The 110-year sentence came as a result of mandatory sentencing rules, which state lawmakers are already talking about reforming, owing to what they see as an egregious over-sentencing of Aguilera-Mederos.
click to enlarge Kayla Wildeman raved about receiving a brake trophy from a colleague. - FACEBOOK
Kayla Wildeman raved about receiving a brake trophy from a colleague.
Facebook
Much of the argument in court revolved around whether Aguilera-Mederos was at fault for a crash that occurred after the brakes on his truck failed.

The brake trophy display on Facebook includes Wildeman's name, the case number and "I-70 Case."

"It is not a piece of evidence from the case. The post was in very poor taste and does not reflect the values of my administration. We have addressed it internally," says Alexis King, district attorney for the First Judicial District. King's predecessor, Peter Weir, was in charge of the office when charges were originally filed against Aguilera-Medero.

Given his judgment in awarding the trophy to a colleague, some members of the legal community wonder if Moritzky was an appropriate candidate for the several vacant district court judge positions in the metro area for which he's been considered.

And the fact that a prosecutor gifted a brake pad to a colleague is evidence of deeper problems among law enforcement officials, according to Andy McNulty, a lawyer with Killmer, Lane & Newman. "It's a grotesque example of the inhumanity of our criminal injustice system. To receive a brake pad as some sort of trophy for sentencing a man to death in prison shows the complete disregard that prosecutors have for the lives they ruin, and how they view their job as some sort of game rather than an obligation to serve justice," McNulty says.

The huge sentence given to Aguilera-Mederos, a Cuban immigrant, has drawn the attention of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that calls itself the "largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States." On December 16, LULAC announced that it's "working on registering a formal complaint of gross misconduct with the Colorado Bar Association against First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King for abuse of power and official oppression under the color of law in filing charges against an innocent truck driver who was behind the wheel when his truck’s brakes failed."

Like those signing the Change.org petition, LULAC is calling on Governor Jared Polis to offer clemency to Aguilera-Mederos. According to Polis's office, the governor and his team review each clemency application they receive.

Aguilera-Mederos's case has been a rocky one from the start. His first attorney was Rob Corry, best known for his marijuana law advocacy. But Corry's personal problems, which eventually resulted in a year-long ban from practicing law (he has since been disbarred), led to Corry dropping off the case in early 2020. Aguilera-Mederos was only 23 at the time of the crash and had little experience driving in the mountains — much less handling a mechanical failure, his final attorney argued. But so far, the trucking company has evaded any charges in connection with the tragedy.

“To make any kind of mockery or behave as if this was a ball game of winning and losing is an outrage," says Leonard Martinez, the attorney for Aguilera-Mederos, of the trophy. "This was about four people losing their lives and another person facing the prospect of a 110-year prison sentence. It is very disappointing but not surprising that the district attorney in this case would allow this to happen given the background of this matter, the legal process itself and the way my client was treated. She should take the necessary steps to discipline those involved and apologize to those impacted.”

LULAC is asking for immediate disciplinary action against Moritzky, as well as a formal apology.

Meanwhile, support for Aguilera-Mederos is growing. The change.org petition calling for clemency has now collected over 4.5 million signatures, and there will be a rally on his behalf outside the State Capitol at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, December 22; find out more here.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.