Man accused of killing Jonelle Matthews in 1984 pleads not guilty in Weld County court

Posted at 12:20 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 14:20:41-05

GREELEY, Colo. — The man accused in the 1984 kidnapping and killing of a young Greeley girl pleaded not guilty during a court arraignment in the case on Wednesday morning.

Steven Pankey, 69, was arrested last year in the death of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews. Pankey was then indicted on counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, felony murder, and second-degree kidnapping with a weapon. He also faces two sentence enhancers for using a weapon in commission of a violent crime if he is convicted, according to court records and the indictment.

Pankey remains in jail with his bond set at $5 million.

Matthews’ remains were discovered at an oil and gas site in Greeley in July 2019. She went missing from her Greeley home on the night of Dec. 20, 1984 after she was dropped off at her home following a choir practice. She lived with her parents and then-16-year-old sister on 43rd Avenue Court in Greeley and she attended Franklin Middle School.

The community rallied together to search for Matthews after she was reported missing but had no luck. For more than 30 years, the case remained cold.

Greeley police said last September, after Matthews’ remains were discovered, that Pankey was a person of interest in the case. He ran as a Republican in the 2018 gubernatorial primary in Idaho and as a Constitution Party candidate in 2014.

Greeley police had disputed some of the claims he made in an interview with the Idaho Statesman and said that he had refused to talk to detectives when they went to speak with him in August 2019. Greeley detectives and Twin Falls police executed a search warrant on his property in September 2019 and said they had not made a request to obtain his DNA.

The grand jury investigation into Matthews’ death was announced in August, and the true bill was returned on. Oct. 9, according to the indictment.

According to Pankey’s indictment, Pankey allegedly took Matthews from her home on the night of Dec. 20, 1984, sometime between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and shot Matthews in the head sometime during the kidnapping. He lived about 2 miles from Matthews’ home in December 1984.