NewsLocal News


Jury unable to reach a verdict in 3 of 4 charges in murder trial of Steven Pankey

Steven Pankey_mistrial on 3 counts, 1 on other
Steven Pankey taking the stand in Jonelle Matthews murder trial
Posted at 12:18 PM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 07:02:53-05

WELD COUNTY, Colo. — The jury in the trial for Steven Pankey, the man accused of killing 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews in Weld County in December 1984, was unable to reach a verdict in three of the four counts against him.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury told Judge Timothy Kerns they had reached an unanimous guilty verdict on count four, which was failure to report to authorities.

They were unable to reach a verdict on the remaining three counts of:

  • Murder after deliberation
  • Felony murder
  • Kidnapping
Jury unable to reach a verdict in 3 of 4 charges in murder trial of Steven Pankey

A hearing is scheduled for Monday to address Pankey's sentencing and bond. The court will also address the potential refiling of the three charges.

The jury was handed the case around noon Tuesday after both sides presented their closing arguments in a Weld County courtroom.

Matthews was last seen alive on Dec. 20, 1984. Pankey was a neighbor of the 12-year-old and her family at the time.

She was deemed missing for more than 30 years until her body was found in 2019 at an oil and gas site in Greeley.

Jonelle Matthews
Courtesy of Greeley Police Department

The Greeley Police Department confirmed in September 2019 Pankey was a person of interest. A Weld County grand jury indicted Pankey in October 2020 on three murder charges including first-degree murder. Two other charges of violence were also added to his case.

During the trial, witnesses testified that Pankey appeared obsessed with the case. Evidence presented included statements Pankey made in church, internet searches he made about Williams and statements he made to law enforcement.

Pankey testified during the trial that he pretended to know information about the case out of bitterness for police and for his former church and employer.

Pankey’s murder trial began Oct. 6.

Ian Farrell, law professor at the University of Denver, said the verdict was not necessarily surprising.

"It's always difficult when there's a lack of direct physical evidence as there was here, especially when the crime occurred so long ago," he said. "I think the prosecution thought that the circumstantial evidence was suspicious enough that they could convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty. And some of the statements that the defendant made were certainly suspicious. And there was other suspicious circumstantial evidence, such as testimony about his car being burned shortly after the crime. The fact that the verdict wasn't not guilty, and instead was a mistrial because of a hung jury, demonstrates that there was at least a plausible argument that the defendant was guilty, just not enough to convince all those jurors."

Farrell also talked about the CSI effect, which is the idea that any DNA evidence is a magic bullet.

"The idea is that they now expect that in every trial, and therefore are much less willing to reach a guilty verdict beyond reasonable doubt without that sort of DNA evidence," he said. "It's worth noting, though, that in this case, it wasn't just that there was no DNA evidence specifically — there was no physical evidence of other kind. There were no fingerprints. There are no eyewitnesses, and so forth."