COLORADO SPRINGS — 48-year-old James Papol appeared in an El Paso County courtroom Wednesday, on first degree murder charges, for a crime he committed at just 15 years old. Papol was arrested two years ago, in Pueblo, for the 1988 murder of Mary Lynn Vialpando in Old Colorado City.
On Wednesday, he agreed to a deal offered by prosecutors, and pleaded guilty to second degree murder, aggravated robbery, and several sentencing enhancement counts.
“In 1988, I seen Miss Vialpando in an alley and I seen she was wearing jewelry,” Papol told a judge. He then admitted to stabbing Vialpando with a knife and pushing her to the ground. She hit her head on a rock then, he said.
“Your actions, using the knife, acting the way you did – did that cause her death?” Judge Robin Chittum asked.
“Yes it did, your honor,” Papol said.
Vialpando’s body was found in an alley near 26th street on June 5, 1988. Police say she’d been raped, stabbed, and beaten to death.
DNA evidence was collected at the scene for later testing, a first in state history. In November, police released a DNA composite photo of the then-unknown suspect.
Former District attorney Dan May coming out of retirement to see this case to the end.
“I went out to the scene in 1988. I was on call, I’ve been on this case since day one. I was with her body in the back alley back there,” May said. “It took too long, there is no justice when a case takes this long to solve. It is torn that family apart. The devastation it has had on them. You just can’t measure it.”
For years, there were no suspects, no motives no answers; so this guilty plea from Papol was long-awaited.
“Emotionally this one probably hit me harder than a lot [of other cases] at the beginning of my career, then it’s stayed with me for years. I’ve had these police reports in my office, for many many years hoping we would solve this,” said May.
Papol will be required to pass an evaluation to be released from his current committment at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.
His sentencing, which will happen at a later date, will range from 40 to 60 years per charge. He’ll serve the sentenced consecutively.
On Wednesday, Papol told Judge Chittum he thought accepting a plea deal would be in the best interest of the families involved.