Sunday, 16 June 2024

Man receives 29 years to life for murdering child, stabbing her sister


EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article contains graphic information that some readers may find disturbing.

LAKEPORT – A Hidden Valley Lake man who pleaded guilty last month to fatally stabbing an 11-year-old girl and also stabbing and injuring her sister has been sentenced to 29 years to life in state prison.

Judge Arthur Mann sentenced James Roland Pagan, 32, to a minimum of 25 years to life with a one-year enhancement for using a butcher knife in the fatal stabbing of Tessa Walker on March 21, 2008, as she and her sister walked near their Hidden Valley Lake home.

In addition, Pagan received the middle term of three years for stabbing 14-year-old Kristen Walker.

The Walker family, who shortly after the murder had issued a statement forgiving Pagan for the stabbings, did not appear in court to give victim impact statements.

Last month, Pagan accepted a plea deal with the District Attorney's Office in which he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and a special allegation of using a deadly weapon and assault with a deadly weapon. In exchange, other charges – including attempted murder, mayhem and inflicting injury on a child – were dismissed, as Lake County News has reported.

Mann said at the beginning of the half-hour court session that he had read the 16-page report from the county Probation Department and was inclined to follow its recommendations, which included denying probation and imposing a state prison sentence. He then asked Pagan's defense attorney, Ken Roush, if he had any comments.

As Pagan's tearful family members looked on, Roush explained his choices in the case, including letting Pagan accept the plea deal, and his concerns about Pagan's mental state as it related to the murder and assault.

“I think something that should be considered is the court has the report from mental health professionals that indicates that James does have a history of mental health issues,” said Roush. “Did they rise to the level of insanity per the legal definition? No, but he does have a history of mental health issues.”

Roush stated that Pagan has no prior criminal record and would be willing to comply with the terms of probation if offered. He emphasized that Pagan was remorseful, despite statements to the contrary in police reports and interviews.

Along with being remorseful, Pagan wanted to take responsibility for his actions, and had been willing to do so from early on in the case “regardless of what the consequences would be,” Roush said.

But before Roush would allow a plea, he said he needed to investigate the case. Many questions are still unanswered, especially as to why and how the incident could have happened.

There was no prior relationship, no heat of passion circumstances, revenge or attempted crimes, all of which are part of a traditional fact patter, said Roush.

The basic issue was the mental state of Pagan, who has a history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, and has been on medications for a good portion of his life, said Roush.

Roush believed that Pagan's mental health issues supported a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity,

However, when three court-appointed experts found Pagan sane, Roush said he then was able to consider allowing Pagan to plead guilty to the charges in the plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office.

Roush said the probation report contains statements by Pagan, who apologizes to the Walker family.

Murder, assault a tragedy for two families

In his comments to the court, Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff noted, “This is a tragic situation for both families involved.”

However, Hinchcliff was unsparing in his comments about the severity of the case, which he emphasized not just for the purposes of sentencing but also so that the facts of the case will be on record for a future parole hearing.

“This murder was one of the most sadistic, gruesome and callous murders ever committed in Lake County,” said Hinchcliff, who could only think of one other murder involving a child that was as bad.

Hinchcliff said Pagan butchered Tessa Walker – who was walking with her sister through the neighborhood near their home – suggesting the motive was to get attention, which also was suggested by the psychiatrists who evaluated him.

The afternoon of the murder, Pagan, who lived with his parents a few blocks away from the Walker family, picked up a butcher knife from the kitchen counter, said Hinchcliff. When his father asked him how he was doing, Pagan replied, “What the f*** do you care?” and left the house with the knife.

He encountered the girls, stabbing Kristen once in the back before attacking Tessa, who he stabbed a total of 35 times – in the neck, heart and liver, with defensive wounds also on her arms.

“Thirty-five times in that little tiny body,” said Hinchcliff, who said the child must have been going through absolute terror.

Kristen Walker ran home for help, and her parents and siblings returned to find Tessa lying in a pool of blood, said Hinchcliff.

After stabbing the girls, Pagan dropped the knife, walked home, had a cigarette, took a shower and called his girlfriend, said Hinchcliff, noting that the crime left behind many victims.

He said he felt sorry for Pagan's parents. “I'm sure they have been living a nightmare too,” said Hinchcliff, adding that they have been cooperative from the onset of the investigation.

Hinchliff recounted watching Det. Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff's Office interview Kristen Walker, who has a form of Down syndrome. The girl remembered her little sister as her best friend, and explained how much she wanted her sister back.

Pagan was on top of her sister, hacking the girl, and Kristen tried to push him off but couldn't. “Being a father myself, I was literally in tears a few times listening to this and watching this,” Hinchcliff said, who explained that the case has been an emotional one for law enforcement, Roush and everyone involved.

Pagan told a psychiatrist evaluating him that he wouldn't have attacked a large man if he had been walking by. Hinchcliff said Pagan chose easy victims, and there is overwhelming evidence to show that the attack was willful, premediatated and deliberated.

Whatever mental health issues Pagan has, he graduated from Middletown High School and received a psychology degree from a university, said Hinchcliff.

He said it's unfortunate that the case didn't meet the requirements for the death penalty, because Hinchcliff said he would have sought it.

“Mr. Pagan needs to be locked away forever where he can never hurt anybody else,” he said, noting the viciousness and brutality of the crimes, and no amount of time served can make amends.

While it's unusual Pagan doesn't have a criminal history, “what's very unusual of this case is the extreme viciousness, brutality and callousness of this attack,” said Hinchcliff.

Mann found that Pagan wasn't eligible for probation due to the severity of the crimes against the vulnerable 11- and 14-year-olds, but he said the attack didn't show planning.

However, Mann said he believed Pagan – who sat hunched next to Roush in a red and white Lake County Jail jumpsuit – posed a high risk of danger to society.

Hinchcliff asked for the upper term of four years for the assault with a deadly weapon charge, and requestd that the terms for both that charge and the set 25 years to life for murder be served consecutively.

Roush, again citing Pagan's lack of a previous criminal record, said he thought the middle term of three years was more appropriate, but he asked that the two sentences run concurrently.

Mann said the murder charge had the fixed term of 25 years to life, but on the matter of the assault charge, he weighed the issues of the crimes great violence and the display of a high degree of cruelty and viciousness against Pagan's lack of a previous criminal record and his willingness to plead guilty. The result was the middle term of three years, with concurrent sentences.

As he passed judgment, Mann also ruled that Pagan pay a restitution fee of more than $35,000, but waived other restitution fees, saying he didn't see a way to pay all of them. Pagan also will receive credit for 417 days in jail, but is ineligible for conduct credits. If he's ever released, he will be on lifetime parole.

Following sentencing Pagan was immediately removed from the courtroom by two bailiffs. With his hands handcuffed to his waist, he raised one hand to waive at his four family members as he left the room.

Pagan will be in his 60s before he'll be eligible for parole, needing to serve 29 years before he can be considered for release, according to Hinchcliff.

But Hinchcliff said that's an unlikely scenario, since the plea agreement was crafted specifically to keep Pagan in prison for the rest of his life.

“I can guarantee you that he'll never get paroled,” Hinchcliff said later Monday afternoon. “It's just never going to happen.”

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

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