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Former Gubernatorial Candidate Pleads Not Guilty to Murdering 12-Year-Old Jonelle Matthews Decades Ago


Steven Dana Pankey

Steven Dana Pankey, 69, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in the murder of 12-year-old Colorado girl Jonelle Matthews, according to CBS Denver.

Matthews went missing from her home December 20, 1984, authorities said. Her whereabouts remained a mystery for decades. The possibility of closure emerged when an evacuation crew encountered her remains in Weld County on July 23, 2019. This was more than 30 years after she went missing. In the grand scheme of things, it did not take much longer to turn up a defendant: Pankey, an also-ran in the 2014 and 2018 Idaho gubernatorial races.

Greeley Police Department

Authorities cited creepy behavior spanning years. According to the indictment, Pankey “intentionally inserted himself in the investigation many times over the years claiming to have knowledge of the crime which grew inconsistent and incriminating over time.” This included him suggesting in a 1999 filing with the Idaho Supreme Court that if justices ruled a certain way, it would be reasonable for him to think he could get the death penalty for revealing the location of Matthews’ body.

Authorities also cited the defendant’s ex-wife, who described his suspicious behavior amid the child’s unexplained disappearance. According to the indictment, she said Pankey made odd statements about Matthews through the years. This included the 2008 funeral of their murdered son, during which Pankey allegedly voiced hope that God did not let this happen because of Jonelle Matthews.

Pankey previously denied wrongdoing, so Wednesday’s plea is no surprise, but it makes his position formal: He’s fighting the case.

“This is about more than Jonelle Matthews’ murder,” the defense said in Dec. 2020. “That’s what they charged Mr. Pankey with, but ultimately what they charged Mr. Pankey with is being an irascible, prickly guy.”

Trial is scheduled for begin July 15. The defense plans to request a change of venue.

[Image via Weld County Sheriff’s Office]

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