COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – “It’s going to be a big relief when it’s over because it’s gone on for so long. And it’s not over yet,” said Cynthia Renkel, Mary Lynn Renkel Vialpando’s older sister.
For more than half of her life, Renkel has been waiting for justice.
“I had no idea it would take 33 years,” she said. “That was the furthest thing from my mind. I had just figured they’d go out and do some interviews and find this person, so when it kept going on and on, year after year, it was hard to handle that.”
Mary Lynn was brutally beaten, raped and stabbed June 5, 1988.
“It was my little sister, I loved her so much and you just can’t let that go,” Renkel said. “Somebody did something terrible to her and I wasn’t going to rest until that person was found and convicted. So it didn’t really take strength, it just took patience.”
And her patience was tested for nearly 30 years, until her sister’s killer was identified.
“We did not know him, but when I heard that he was identified through DNA and arrested, I don’t want to say I was happy but it’s like ‘Oh, finally!'” said Renkel.
In 2017, DNA identfied the suspect as James Papol, of Pueblo.
“It was a very big relief when we found out, at least a name and a face was put to the person,” said Renkel.
But it was several more years before the case finally went to trial, only to have a mistrial declared because of COVID.
Papol’s defense then decided to agree to a plea deal.
“I was very thankful that we did not have to go to trial because there would always be a chance that he would be acquitted, but even worse, my family would probably have to see autopsy photos and hear all those details and that would be so hard,” said Renkel.
Papol pleaded guilty to second degree murder and aggravated robbery and faces 40 to 60 years behind bars.
“I believe he’s 48 years old, so if he’s in for 60 years, I think that’s the best we can do,” said Renkel.
He was just 15 at the time of the crime.
“That just blew my mind,” said Renkel. “It was like unbelievable, and he must have even at that time been a really big person because my sister was very strong and healthy and she could run. And he just kept on her and kept on her and kept on her until she was dead.”
Renkel said she’s relieved to know who killed her sister, but she still doesn’t know why.
“He said that he saw her jewelry, no, he lied about that. She didn’t have any flashy jewelry,” said Renkel.
Renkel knows she will never get the answers she is looking for, so she says she’s doing her best to let the “what ifs” and “whys” go.
“I feel that for the last 33 years almost I’ve been walking around with a little dark cloud over my head,” she said. “It’s gonna disappear now, and once it disappears I don’t know how I will feel. I’m sure I will be very positive, and I am looking forward to that, because I can’t even remember how it felt not to have this dark cloud over my head.”
She said part of that process includes forgiving Papol.
“I’m working on it. He does not deserve from me my passion and emotion for hate, I just want to be done with him,” said Renkel. “So the only way I can be done with him is to forgive him. I would be doing that for myself because I want to be done with him. I’m sure he does not care if I forgive him.”
Renkel said up to this point, she has seen no remorse from Papol.
“My dad passed away without knowing who had done such a terrible thing to his little girl, and my mom lived to age 99-and-a-half and she also passed without knowing,” said Renkel. “So that was probably one of the hardest parts of this – is that my mother lived that long and didn’t even know what happened to her daughter.”
At Papol’s sentencing, Renkel said she plans to let the judge know what kind of person Mary Lynne was and how her death impacted their whole family.
“She was only 24 when she was murdered and she was getting her life together, she was growing up and I was watching this. She was in college and she wanted a better life for her family and her little girl and she was just on her way, she was going to make it. She was going to turn into a wonderful adult and have a happy family,” said Renkel.
Renkel said Mary Lynn now has four grandchildren and she wants people to remember that her sister was a happy, delightful person.
“I just miss my sister. I wish she was here,” said Renkel. “I would have really loved to see her grow into adulthood.”