Cold case murder investigation: Court records hidden from public

Left: Mary Lynn Vialpando. Middle: Suspect, James Papol.  Right: DNA Phenotyping of the suspect...
Left: Mary Lynn Vialpando. Middle: Suspect, James Papol. Right: DNA Phenotyping of the suspect released before the arrest of Papol.(KKTV)
Published: Sep. 25, 2018 at 6:22 PM MDT
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11 News has learned that all of the documents surrounding the case against a man facing murder charges for a decades-old cold case are hidden from the public.

The case is currently suppressed in Colorado, which means all of the information surrounding it is only available to the parties involved and the judge.

Authorities announced the arrest on Thursday for the murder of Mary Lynn Renkel Vialpando. On June 5, 1988, she was found dead in the alley north of the 2600 block of West Colorado Avenue. She was 24 at the time she died of blunt-force trauma injuries.

When 11 News tried to request Papol's arrest papers Tuesday, our reporter was told that by the records department that in their computer system it is like the case does not even exist. Under normal circumstances, an arrest affidavit is a public document. That's when 11 News learned that the case had been suppressed.

Investigators say that DNA evidence links Papol to the crime, but arrest papers would reveal more about what happened.

11 News reached out to the State Court administrator, Christopher Ryan, who assists the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court to ask why cases are suppressed in Colorado. Typically, either of the parties involved in the case will ask the judge to suppress it. It's up to the judge to then make a decision on whether to grant that motion and suppress the case.

Ryan could not talk specifically about the case against Papol but said that cases are suppressed for a variety of reasons including protecting witnesses, protecting an investigation, or if a case involves an arrest warrant and they don't want to tip off suspects that they are about to be arrested.

11 News also reached out to Jeff Roberts with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. While Roberts cannot say for sure why Papol's case is not public, he said it could be because the suspect was only 15 at the time of the murder.

"If he's being moved into the adult system, it will be taken care of and that the case will be unsupressed," Roberts said. "Hopefully most of the records associated with the case will be available to the public unless there's some compelling reason to keep them secret."

State Court Administrator Christopher Ryan tells 11 News that the state is working on transparency when it comes to suppressed cases. Right now, it is not even public record when a judge orders to suppress a case. There is also no timeline for review hearings to go back and review cases that have been suppressed.