The murder of Jonelle Matthews: Steve Pankey convicted of 1984 killing of 12-year-old girl

The trial was the second for Pankey. A jury was unable to reach a verdict last year on the kidnapping and murder charges

The murder of Jonelle Matthews: Steve Pankey convicted of 1984 killing of 12-year-old girl
Steve Pankey (L) was convicted of the murder of Jonelle Matthews (R) (Weld County District Attorney's Office and Screenshot/Fox News)
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GREELEY, COLORADO: After the first trial ended in a tied verdict, the second Colorado jury on Monday, Oct 31, found defendant Steven Pankey, 71, guilty of first-degree aggravated murder, first-degree kidnapping with the use of a deadly weapon, and making a false report to police in connection with the 1984 abduction and death of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews from her Greeley home a few days before Christmas, according to the Weld County District Attorney's Office. He was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of early release after 20 years.

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According to prosecutors, Pankey shot 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews once in the head. Nevertheless, jurors acquitted Pankey of the charge of first-degree premeditated murder. Murder committed during the commission of another crime is called aggravated murder. The jury determined that the addition of a deadly weapon to the sentence for kidnapping was appropriate. The jury began deliberations on the afternoon of Friday, Oct 28, took a weekend recess and reached a decision on the morning of Monday, Oct 31.

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On the evening of December 20, 1984, Matthews disappeared after being dropped off at her residence by family friends. When her father returned home, he learned she had disappeared. It was not until July 24, 2019, that she tragically resurfaced. Her remains were discovered by oil and gas workers. The bulk of the state's evidence focused on Pankey's questionable behavior in the years between her disappearance and the recovery of her body. In September 2019, authorities searched Pankey's home and discovered more than 1,000 documents related to the Matthews case.

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"My parents and I were thrown into a reality of moving forward while trying to find Jonelle," said Matthews' sister, Jennifer Mogenson, at Pankey's sentencing Monday afternoon. "You moved on as well, but you were looking back, waiting to see if you'd get caught."

Greeley police investigator Mike Prill,  according to The Greeley Tribune said, Pankey had "intimate knowledge" of some little-known facts about the case, such as the identities of the two police officers who resided on Matthews' street, the victim's death, and the fact that she was murdered before crossing 10th Street. On September 2, 1999, Pankey informed the Idaho Supreme Court that he dreaded being put to death for disclosing the location of Matthews' body. Pankey said she was deceased in letters sent over the years. The investigator said that he also sent an unauthorized "alibi letter" in 2013 detailing his location on December 20, 1984.

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In addition, the jury found Pankey guilty of filing a fraudulent police complaint regarding a blanket missing from the Matthews residence. According to his defense counsel, there was no blanket missing at all. "I want to say thank you to you and the alternates who spent a substantial amount of time, effort, discipline, and consideration of this case," District Court Judge Timothy Kerns said at the reading of Monday's, October 31 verdict.

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"I just want to cry," Matthews' mother, Gloria Matthews, told reporters Monday afternoon. She stood flanked by her husband, Jim Matthews, Mogenson, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke, Greeley Police Chief Adam Turk, and others involved in the case. "But it's not crying of not having Jonelle. It's a crying of happiness."

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