Thirty years after Mary Lynn Vialpando was raped and stabbed to death on Colorado Springs’ west side, her grieving relatives got their first look Thursday at the man police identified as her killer.
Her daughter was among those who sat quietly in a front row — tearfully holding a framed photo of her slain mother — as James Edward Papol was led into court for his first in-person appearance in 4th Judicial District Court.
Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit with his hands cuffed behind his back, Papol, 46, glanced nervously around the gallery, blinking rapidly, until his eyes settled on his son in a back row.
The defendant said nothing as his court-appointed defense team waived a formal reading of his charges, which include three counts of first-degree murder under different theories of how the crime unfolded.
While little of substance was decided, the brief hearing offered a preview of procedural snags that could slow his case to a crawl.
Because Papol was 15 at the time of Vialpando’s slaying, his legal team may petition to have the case moved into Juvenile Court, attorney Richard Bednarski told the court. Alternatively, his attorneys may ask to have the case dismissed on the grounds that charges should have been filed in Juvenile Court in the first place.
The legal debate pivots on differences in juvenile law in 1988 versus today — and the question of which laws should prevail.
Judge Robin Chittum said she wants the jurisdictional issues sorted out “right away” and set a Nov. 30 hearing at which the defense must declare its intentions. A move to Juvenile Court would be rare in such cases in El Paso County, where several teens accused of first-degree murder have been tried as adults.
Papol, a repeat felon, was tied to the killing by DNA collected from the Vialpando’s body, cracking a stubborn cold case, authorities say. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation made the match late last year during a routine check of known DNA profiles against those from unsolved cases.
On the night Vialpando, 24, was attacked and left to die in an alley off Colorado Avenue near 26th Street, Papol was staying in a nearby motel with his family, court documents said. His mother told police she recalls him disappearing for two hours that night. Papol was questioned by police while he was at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo in June, when a new DNA sample was taken.
Before he was arrested in September, Papol met with his mother at the mental health hospital and told her he had found a woman’s body that night, touched it and taken jewelry, leaving his DNA on the body, according to the arrest affidavit.
Vialpando’s relatives and Papol’s son declined to comment as they left the hearing.
Vialpando’s older sister, Cynthia Renkel, previously told The Gazette that Papol’s name “came out of the blue.”
“I don’t know why she would have known somebody like that because she was 24 and he was 15. I’m just guessing that it was just random,” Renkel told the newspaper. “If the DNA connection hadn’t been made, they probably would have never found him.”