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Retrial Ends with Former Gubernatorial Candidate Convicted in 12-Year-Old Jonelle Matthews’ 1984 Death

Steven Pankey, and Jonelle Matthews

Steven Pankey, and Jonelle Matthews

After a first trial ended in a hung jury, a new set of Colorado jurors convicted defendant Steven Pankey, 71, of second-degree kidnapping with use of a deadly weapon, first-degree felony murder, and false reporting to authorities, according to the Weld County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors have said that Pankey shot Jonelle Matthews, 12, once in the head. Jurors nonetheless acquitted Pankey of first-degree murder.

Matthews went missing after family friends dropped her off at her home on the night of Dec. 20, 1984. Her father returned home to discover she had disappeared. It was only in July 24, 2019 that she tragically turned up. Oil and gas workers found her remains.

Much of the state’s case focused on Pankey’s suspicious actions in the years between the disappearance and the discovery of the child’s body. When searching Pankey’s condo in September 2019, authorities turned up more than 1,000 documents that mentioned the Matthews case.

Pankey had “intimate knowledge” of unpublicized aspects of the case, like details of two police officers living on Matthews’ street, the fact that the victim was dead, and that she was killed before crossing 10th Street, said Greeley police detective Mike Prill, according to The Greeley Tribune.

Pankey wrote the Supreme Court of Idaho on Sept. 2, 1999 that he feared receiving a death sentence for revealing the whereabouts of Matthews’ body.

In letters through the years, Pankey said she was dead.

He also wrote an unsolicited “alibi letter” in 2013 about his whereabouts on Dec. 20, 1984, the detective said.

His ex-wife Angela Hicks also testified about the defendant acting suspiciously amid Matthews’ disappearance, such as Pankey mentioning Matthews out of nowhere during the memorial service for Hicks and Pankey’s son.

“He bent, and he kissed the urn, and he said, ‘I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews,'” she testified.

Patrick Callas, who reportedly served as an inmate with Pankey at the Weld County Jail in 2021, said that Pankey made incriminating statements while in lock up, such as “She was dead before I crossed the railroad tracks.”

Pankey’s attorney Jessica Brazil attacked Callas’ credibility. Callas acknowledged he took an unrelated 2020 plea deal for 25 years in prison in exchange for testifying against his co-defendants.

Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said he never offered Callas a deal to testify in the Pankey trial.

Pankey previously ran for Idaho governor twice (once as Constitution Party candidate and once as a Republican). He never got close to winning the seat.

In the first trial, defense lawyer Anthony Viorst said his client was an obsessive true crime junkie with Asperger syndrome who treated his ex-wife badly. He said that Pankey would get involved in cases to show his “self-importance.” He maintained his client believed the Greeley and Sun Valley police departments were out to get him.

“Never happened,” murder defendant Pankey, then 70, reportedly said in his first trial when asked if he shot Matthews in the forehead as she begged for her life. “Never happened,” he said again, when asked if he looked her in her eyes.

Pankey was sentenced later on Monday to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

[Screenshot of Pankey via KUSA; image of Matthews via missing person flyer]

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