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Man accused in 1988 Old Colorado City murder to undergo mental health evaluation

The Gazette - 3/2/2019

A man accused of raping and killing a woman in Old Colorado City in 1988 was ordered to undergo an evaluation to determine if he’s mentally fit to stand trial.

James Edward Papol, who authorities say has been tied by DNA to the murder of Mary Lynn Vialpando, experienced “a significant decline in his mental functioning” after going eight days without his anti-psychotic medication at the El Paso County jail, one of his defense attorneys told 4th Judicial District Judge Robin Chittum during a pretrial hearing.

After testimony from investigators and forensic experts, Chittum ruled Friday that the prosecution has enough evidence for Papol to stand trial on charges including three counts of first-degree murder, each for a different theory of how the crime unfolded.

But the competency evaluation, which Chittum ordered be done at Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, could put his case on hold for months or longer.

“This is going to come up again,” said Chittum, who set another hearing for April 5 to discuss progress on the evaluation. “This is a case that he needs to be actively participating in, down the line.”

Such mental competency evaluations examine whether defendants can understand court proceedings and aid in their defense.

If found mentally incompetent, Papol will have to be treated by state psychologists until a judge rules that his mental fitness is restored. Inmates’ treatment can’t extend beyond the maximum sentence they face.

Papol, 46, was 15 when Vialpando was beaten, raped and stabbed to death. His mother has told police he was staying with his family at a motel that was “within feet” of an alley near 26th Street where Vialpando’s body was found on July 5, 1988, Colorado Springs police detective James Isham told the court.

The slaying was a mystery for decades, until a routine search by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation matched the DNA found on her body with Papol’s profile in a law enforcement database.

An updated profile from another sample from Vialpando’s body had been added to the system in 2016, testified Rebecca Strub, a DNA technician leader for a crime lab that works with Colorado Springs police.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, Papol trembled in his chair at the defense table, bouncing up and down slightly. The judge denied a motion by defense attorney Richard Bednarski to delay his preliminary hearing due to his mental state, but allowed Papol to leave before witnesses were called after Bednarski said he was too disturbed to “understand what’s going on.”

When Chittum asked if he wanted to stay for the hearing, Papol quietly replied that he preferred to “go back to jail.”

A defendant may waive their right to be present at a preliminary hearing, but listening to the proceedings can offer the accused insight and some advantages, such as the opportunity to suggest questions to his or her attorney, said Phil Dubois, a Colorado Springs defense attorney who is unaffiliated with the case.

Potential issues with Papol’s competency, however, raise questions about whether was mentally stable enough to make the decision to not attend the hearing, Dubois told The Gazette. “Is he competent to give up that right? Incompetence typically means, no, he’s not,” Dubois said.

Papol is prescribed Latuda, an anti-psychotic drug, to ease his symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, Bednarski said.

The County Attorney’s Office said in a report filed Thursday that the Sheriff’s Office and the jail’s health care provider have said Papol is receiving necessary medical care, said Deputy District Attorney Austin Lux. However, patient confidentiality rules barred the Sheriff’s Office from providing specifics, Lux said.

But officials have since learned that some of the information provided in the status report was inaccurate, sheriff’s Spokeswoman Jackie Kirby told The Gazette after the hearing.

The County Attorney’s Office will file additional paperwork with the court Monday to “correct the misinformation,” she said. She declined to provide further details about the inaccuracies, citing confidentiality requirements.

Armor Correctional Health Services, the jail’s for-profit health care provider, has been criticized for allegedly subpar care at the county jail and other correctional health facilities across the country.

After the Miami-based company took over health care for inmates in 2017, an audit found that a backlog of inmate sick calls, lapses in documentation of staff training and other problems. The Sheriff’s Office and the health care provider have said that the issues were corrected in a timely manner.

The company declined to comment on Papol’s case.

“What we can say is Armor’s behavioral health caregivers have genuine concern for their patients, and are committed to ensure appropriate care is provided,” Armor COO Ken Palombo said in an email.

Papol’s case appears to be another instance of a criminal defendant languishing in a county jail amid a shortage in psychiatric beds at the state hospital in Pueblo.

At the time of his arrest in September, Papol had been held in a maximum security wing at the Pueblo hospital for 16 years, his attorneys previously said in court.

He had been receiving care there after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in a pair of robberies committed in 2002. People acquitted under such circumstances can be confined until doctors determine they no longer suffer from a mental illness or are no longer a threat to themselves or others.

He was transferred to the El Paso County jail upon his arrest in the 21-year-old cold case, where he has been held without bond.

Papol’s attorneys complained in January that he hadn’t consistently received his psychiatric medications at the jail. Chittum then ordered that he be transferred to the Pueblo hospital. But the state responded in a motion in February that there were not enough beds to admit him, according to his defense team.

 
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