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James Edward Papol is accused of raping and killing Mary Lynn Vialpando in 1988 in Old Colorado City.

A man accused of raping and killing a Colorado Springs woman when he was 15 is headed to trial in June, when his attorneys will argue he was too mentally disturbed to know right from wrong.

James Edward Papol — who has a two-decade history of insanity commitments — will be tried under court procedures in force in 1988, when authorities say he sexually assaulted, stabbed and strangled 24-year-old Mary Lynn Vialpando in the west-side Old Colorado City neighborhood.

Papol, now 48, will first go before a jury to contest his sanity at the time of the crime. If the panel agrees he was insane on June 5, 1988, he will be confined indefinitely to a state mental hospital.

If Papol is found to have been sane, a second jury would be convened to determine if he committed the crime. That panel won’t be privy to the mental health history aired during the previous phase.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Robin Chittum scheduled the sanity phase of the trial for June 22. The “merits phase” would be scheduled within six months, if necessary. If convicted, he would face life in prison without the possibility of parole. The judge scheduled the trial after receiving results of a state sanity evaluation which were not made public.

The trial has been eagerly awaited by Vialpando’s relatives, including her daughter, Coral, who attended a brief hearing Jan. 3 holding a framed photograph of her mother, as she has at past hearings, flanked by supporters.

Papol’s criminal history includes two commitments after being found insane in Colorado. He was a patient at the Colorado State Mental Health Institute in Pueblo in 2018 when authorities announced that his DNA matched that of Vialpando’s killer, the result of a routine review of DNA evidence in cold cases.

After his arrest, Papol told his mother that he didn’t kill Vialpando, police said in an arrest affidavit, claiming that he encountered her body and touched it to check for signs of life, causing it to roll down a hill. He claimed he took jewelry and ran off.

The teenage Papol had lived with his mother and younger siblings in an Old Colorado City motel near the alley where Vialpando’s body was found.

His prosecution has been marred by snags at the El Paso County jail in which he was deprived of his psychiatric medication — slip-ups the Sheriff’s Office blamed on its for-profit medical provider. The sheriff recently announced a switch to a new for-profit company, while stating his intention to pursue a public health provider at the jail.

Contact the writer: 636-0366

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