Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Man pleads guilty to murder of girl, assault of her sister

LAKEPORT – The case of a man accused of stabbing to death a young girl and seriously injuring her sister took an unusual turn on Monday afternoon, when he entered two new pleas – both of them guilty.

As his family looked on, James Roland Pagan, 32, stated “guilty” when Judge Arthur Mann asked him how he would plead to the charges of first-degree murder, with a special allegation of using a knife, and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm.

He had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, according to statements in court on Monday.

His defense attorney, Ken Roush, did not return calls from Lake County News seeking comment.

Pagan was accused of attacking Tessa Faith Walker, 10, and her sister, Kristen, 14, as the two girls walked through their Hidden Valley Lake neighborhood after getting home from school on March 21, 2008.

Tessa Walker died later the same day of of numerous stab wounds, while Kristen Walker was treated for a moderate stab wound, as Lake County News has reported.

Last September, following a preliminary hearing, Pagan had been ordered to stand trial on five felony counts, including the two he pleaded guilty to on Monday. No trial date had been set.

The other original counts – mayhem, attempted murder and inflicting injury on a child – were dismissed on Monday as part of the agreement reached between Roush and Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.

Pagan, was led into the courtroom wearing a red and white jail uniform with his hands secured by handcuffs to his waist.

“Do we have a disposition?” asked Mann, who presided at the preliminary hearing last fall.

Roush said yes, and asked permission to approach the bench, handing Mann a document several pages long.

Hinchcliff told the court that the evidence in the case was “overwhelming.”

“There's no evidence that the defendant wasn't the perpetrator of the crimes that he is admitting to,” said Hinchcliff.

Three doctors evaluated Pagan, Hinchcliff said, with all of them concluding he was sane at the time of the girls' stabbings.

Mann asked Pagan if he had gone over the plea agreement with his attorney. “Yes, sir,” Pagan responded.

The judge the proceeded to ask Pagan for his pleas on the homicide and assault with a deadly weapon counts, receiving guilty pleas to both, with Pagan also admitting to the special allegation of using a knife.

Mann then asked Roush if he was withdrawing the previous pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity. Roush said he was going to submit them.

During the hearing, Pagan also waived his right to have a jury determine his sanity at the time of the alleged stabbings. Roush and Hinchcliff also waived a jury determination on the subject.

Based on the findings of each of the three doctors who evaluated Pagan, Mann found that Pagan was not insane at the time of the offenses. “I'll accept the defendant's pleas,” he said.

Mann added that the court found that the first-degree murder of Tessa Walker was willful and premeditated.

He ordered a probation report to be prepared before the sentencing, which will take place on May 11 at 1:30 p.m.

Hinchcliff said after the brief court session that he and Roush had been working for several months on the plea agreement, but it wasn't until Monday morning that he received word that the defense planned to offer the guilty pleas.

Pagan is looking at a potential maximum of 30 years to life, said Hinchcliff. The best case scenario for Pagan is that he could receive parole in 28 years.

Hinchcliff said it's “very unusual” to have a guilty plea entered in a first-degree murder case.

“This just happened to be a case where the evidence of guilt was overwhelming,” he said, adding there wasn't anywhere for the defense to go with the case.

Tessa Walker's family has been invited to give victim impact statements at Pagan's sentencing next month, but Hinchcliff said he doesn't know if they'll attend. The Walker family issued a statement after the attacks last year, offering their forgiveness to Pagan.

Pagan, a student who had lived with his parents in Hidden Valley Lake near to the Walker family, had no previous local criminal cases except a May 2007 traffic ticket, as Lake County News has reported.

Hinchcliff said Pagan has never stated why he stabbed the two young girls. He added that Pagan was not found to be on drugs or alcohol at the time of his arrest.

Asked about a theory for the motivation behind the stabbings, Hinchcliff said he had his own ideas, based on his experience as a prosecutor.

“My theory would be that he did it to get attention,” Hinchcliff said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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