Judge denies Marquez withdrawing guilty plea in fatal hit-and-run case

Marquez now scheduled for sentencing Sept. 22

Corinne Westeman
Posted 9/15/23

Ruben Marquez, the 30-year-old man who allegedly drove a truck into a crowd outside Golden’s Rock Rest Lodge last October, has tried to withdraw his guilty plea and change his attorneys.

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Judge denies Marquez withdrawing guilty plea in fatal hit-and-run case

Marquez now scheduled for sentencing Sept. 22


The man who allegedly drove a truck into a crowd outside Golden’s Rock Rest Lodge last October has tried to withdraw his guilty plea and change his attorneys.

Ruben Marquez, 30, appeared in custody at his Sept. 15 sentencing, where his new attorney also asked to continue proceedings indefinitely so he’d have time to properly review the case.

However, Judge Lindsay VanGilder denied Marquez’s motion to withdraw his plea, saying she didn’t find just cause to do so.

After both sets of defense attorneys said they weren’t prepared for sentencing proceedings on Sept. 15, VanGilder rescheduled it for 9 a.m. Sept. 22 at the Jefferson County Courthouse. She also accepted comments from any of the victims who wouldn’t be able to attend the new court date.

On Aug. 17, Marquez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, three counts of vehicular assault and one count of attempted second-degree assault.

Adrian Ponce, 26, was killed in the Oct. 9 incident. Three Rock Rest employees were seriously injured, and other people at the scene sustained minor injuries.

The plea agreement outlines a 30-year prison sentence, although how much time Marquez serves for each count is subject to VanGilder’s ruling, she said.

However, the day before his Sept. 15 sentencing, Marquez’s defense team filed motions to continue the sentencing hearing indefinitely and to have new attorneys represent him. Mark Burton, the private defense attorney Marquez wanted to represent him, said public defenders Lindsay Stone and Christopher Richardson had failed to investigate the case thoroughly.

Burton asked the court for time so his team could review all the evidence.

“We could show that there is a viable defense in this matter based on further investigation,” Burton said during the Sept. 15 proceedings. “Knowing there’s a viable defense, I don’t think (Marquez) would’ve taken the plea.”

The prosecutors strenuously objected, saying the case has been in the court system almost a year, and the victims deserve closure after almost a year of court proceedings.

The prosecutors believed Stone and Richardson were talented defense attorneys who’d represented their client competently, and felt these last-minute changes were unreasonable.

VanGilder also believed Stone and Richardson defended Marquez well during his three-day preliminary hearing earlier this year, and said all parties had talked about the plea agreement extensively before the Aug. 17 arraignment.

Thus, she denied Marquez’s motion to withdraw his plea. She also denied the motion to continue the sentencing indefinitely, stating her concerns for the victims “having finality and being able to move forward with their own healing.”

She was open to allowing Burton to represent Marquez at the Sept. 22 sentencing. However, Burton said he’d need more than a week to prepare, and that Marquez was OK with retaining Stone and Richardson for sentencing.

VanGilder thus denied Marquez's request to change attorneys, and decided to continue proceedings for a week only to allow Stone and Richardson to prepare for sentencing.

The Oct. 9 incident

As VanGilder has summarized, the general facts of the case are that three cousins — Marquez, Jose Avila and Jose Loera — went to The Rock Rest Lodge on Oct. 8.

At bar close on Oct. 9, Marquez’s group got into a verbal argument with Ponce’s group outside. The verbal confrontation escalated to a physical one, with one witness reporting that Ponce punched Marquez.

Avila’s truck was parked outside the Rock Rest, on roughly the southeast side of the building. Avila reportedly got into the truck, but it wouldn’t start. He left the keys inside, based on what he told investigators, and exited the vehicle.

As bar employees were outside trying to break up the fight, Avila got back in the truck with Marquez. However, the prosecution posited that Marquez was behind the wheel this time and intentionally drove into the crowd.

When describing the driver, witnesses gave a mix of descriptors, including bald, short, heavier-set Hispanic male wearing a white T-shirt with neck and face tattoos. These match Marquez’s appearance on Oct. 9.

Marquez’s defense attorneys previously stressed the number of conflicting eyewitness accounts, saying some gave a description of the driver that better matched Avila than Marquez.

However, the bar manager, who was within a few feet of the truck when it hit the crowd, picked Marquez out of a photo lineup and was 100% certain Marquez drove the truck into the crowd.

Marquez was initially charged with 17 counts, including first-degree murder, vehicular homicide and multiple assault charges. He was initially held at the Jeffco jail without bond. However, after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled defendants can’t be held without bond even in Class 1 felony cases, VanGilder set his bond at $500,000 cash in June.

Meanwhile, Avila — Marquez’s 26-year-old cousin who owned the truck — was originally charged with felony accessory. On Aug. 15, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts, including driving under the influence.

VanGilder ordered an alcohol evaluation ahead of Avila’s sentencing, which is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Oct. 13. The DUI charge carries a sentence of up to one year in the county jail, VanGilder explained, while the other misdemeanors are up 120 days in jail. Avila's exact sentence will be subject to VanGilder's ruling.

golden, colorado, fatal, hit-and-run, court, case, rock, rest, lodge, ernesto, avila, ruben, marquez, drive, crowd, murder, vehicular, homicide, preliminary, hearing, arraignment, plea, bond


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