Who is James Papol? Colorado man, 48, who raped and murdered Mary Lynn Vialpando in 1988 gets 60 years prison

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO: James Edward Papol, 48, who raped and murdered a 24-year-old in 1988, was sentenced to 60 years in prison on May 5, 2021. At the time, Papol was 15 when he assaulted Mary Lynn Vialpando. She was found beaten, stabbed and raped in an alley in Old Colorado City in 1988. 

No suspect was ever named until the police managed to use DNA evidence to nab Papol in 2018. According to then-District Attorney Dan May, it was the first time police had collected DNA from the crime scene in Colorado. 

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The dramatic trial of Papol had several ups and downs, including an insanity plea, a mistrial and a DA coming out of retirement before it was finally closed on May 5. Here’s everything we know about the brutal killer.

Mary Lynne Vialpando, the 24-year-old murdered by James Papol. (Colorado Springs Police Department)

Who is James Papol?

Papol, 48, is a longtime resident of the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. He was married to Michelle Lynne Grippo in April 1996, before the couple filed for divorce in 2015. During the marriage, Michelle said that the two were involved in crimes and drugs in an interview with The Gazette. The publication managed to access Papol’s criminal record, and found that he had a long rap sheet. “He was cited by law enforcement in El Paso, Weld, and Douglas counties at least 36 times related to allegations of assault, harassment, reckless endangerment, violating a restraining order, and repeatedly writing bad checks. Many of those charges — including a slew of traffic crimes — ultimately were dismissed,” the publication reported.

Papol was convicted on charges of vandalism and robbery from the ’90s, and felony menacing and theft from 2008. Michelle also filed two restraining orders against Papol in 1999. The first was filed in June, and the second in September. During the second order, Michelle claimed she was pregnant and that Social Services did not want the child near Papol. Both orders were only temporary. He also allegedly beat his mother, with another ex-wife, saying he “just really hates women, that is what it comes down to.” 

Reportedly, Papol’s first ex-wife met him in 1991 when she was pregnant, and their relationship turned violent when they moved into a Colorado Springs apartment together. She eventually moved to a women’s shelter in New Jersey, out of fear for her daughter and son’s life, but was found by Papol who continued to assault her.

It is unclear when exactly Papol was committed to the Mental Health Institute. The Pueblo Chieftain reported that Papol was held at the facility “for much of the past two decades as a result of prior insanity commitments.” Beyond his criminal record, not much else is known about Papol. It is unclear where he worked, or where he studied. 

The Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, where Papol was committed. (Glassdoor)

Dramatic trial in case of Vialpando

According to The Gazette, the murder remained unsolved for 30 years since the police were never able to match the DNA taken from Vialpando’s body. They did, however, manage to obtain a composite drawing of the suspect. In 2017, Papol was visited by authorities at the hospital who then obtained his DNA sample. The sample matched the one from Vialpando’s body. A month later, a former girlfriend contacted the police Cold Case Facebook page and was able to identify the drawing as Papol. 

Papol’s mother also confirmed her son told her about the murder he committed, leading to his arrest in 2018. Initially, he faced first-degree murder charges which was later upgraded to second-degree murder, aggravated robbery, and several sentencing enhancement counts. Former District attorney Dan May came out of retirement to see the 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.”

District Attorney Dan May addresses the media during an active shooter situation outside a Planned Parenthood facility on November 27, 2015, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Getty Images)

After he was evaluated, Papol went on trial as an adult, even though he committed the crime as a minor. In October 2020, a mistrial was declared by Judge Robin Chittum after concerns an attorney was exposed to Covid-19. Papol initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but an evaluation at the hospital he was in confirmed he was fit to stand trial. He then took a plea deal that would see him serve between 40 and 60 years. 

He was found guilty after a new trial on April 5. On May 5, he was sentenced to 60 years by the judge.

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