Supreme Court decision results in resentencing for man who killed state trooper in 1992

Marcus Fernandez, 41, was resentenced to 46 years in prison in Summit County Court on Tuesday.
Summit County Sheriff’s Office

Marcus Fernandez, the man who murdered a Colorado State Patrol trooper outside of Georgetown in 1992, was resentenced to 46 years in the Department of Corrections during a hearing in Summit County Court on Tuesday morning.

Fernandez, 41, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1993 in Summit County, and has been behind bars for the last 25 years serving a life sentence without parole. But due to a 2012 Supreme Court decision, Fernandez was resentenced and will someday be released.

On Nov. 4, 1992, a 15-year-old Fernandez and accomplice T.J. White, were traveling west for California on Interstate 70 east of Georgetown in a Dodge Colt the two stole from a Highlands Ranch home earlier that day, according to court records.

The boys were pulled over by Lyle Wohlers, a 26-year veteran with the Colorado State Patrol, just after 4 p.m. for a routine traffic stop. Wohlers placed Fernandez in his patrol vehicle and radioed to dispatch that something was amiss after Fernandez provided a false name, and the plate on the car didn’t match registration records.

While Wohlers was conducting his investigation, Fernandez shot him in the head before driving off with White to ditch the car in Georgetown. Officers on I-70 arrested them shortly after. Wohlers, who was 51, passed away from the gunshot the next morning.

Because of the heinous nature of the crime, both Fernandez and White were charged as adults. White was sentenced to 32 years in prison on charges of accessory to murder and auto theft, but was released after 11 years. Fernandez was convicted on charges of first-degree murder and auto theft, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

While it seemed like Fernandez was set to spend the rest of his life incarcerated, a recent Supreme Court decision opened the door for Fernandez to petition for a new sentence. In 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on a case called Miller v. Alabama, which struck down mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders. In 2016, Colorado passed a senate bill to establish a resentencing process to comply with the court’s decision on Miller v. Alabama.

At the hearing on Tuesday, Chief Judge Mark Thompson — considering letters sent to him from Wohler’s former colleagues, friends and family — resentenced Fernandez to 46 years in prison, along with an additional 16 years in prison for the motor vehicle theft to be served concurrently. Fernandez’s sentence is backdated to his original sentence date in 1993, and he’ll get credit for his uninterrupted incarceration since his arrest in 1992.

District Attorney Bruce Brown said Fernandez would likely serve another 10 years in prison, followed by a 10-year parole period. Brown continued to note that several mitigating factors were brought up during the hearing.

“We were supposed to start a two-day hearing regarding what sentence the court should impose,” said Brown. “Instead we entered an agreement where the parties agreed there were extraordinary mitigating circumstances, in that Fernandez has taken steps to rehabilitate and that he was only 15 at the time of the murder … the court noted that for the first time the defendant explicitly accepted responsibility for killing the trooper.”

More than 26 years later, Wohlers’ death has left a lasting impact on the Clear Creak community. Just last Wednesday the Clear Creek Sheriff’s Office — along with police departments in Idaho Springs, Empire and Georgetown — held the annual Lyle Wohlers Law Enforcement Luncheon to honor law enforcement agents in the area. Additionally, Wohlers’ family has created a scholarship in his name for students pursuing criminal justice degrees, and last year the Colorado State Patrol placed a marker on I-70 where Wohlers was killed to memorialize his life and work.

“It was that sense of humility which made … Wohlers’ death such a senseless act, taking not only his life but a part of the many people who called him their friend,” said Brown. “It’s hard to swallow that the man who killed him gains a reduced punishment so many years later, but it will be on this defendant’s shoulders to prove that he is deserving of such leniency. The commitment of each police officer and their families risking their lives every time they leave the station is deserving of daily recognition of their selfless sacrifice and commitment.”

Forty-four law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty so far this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

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