Steve Pankey

Photo: Ada County Sheriff's Office

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BOISE — A former Idaho candidate for governor has been arrested and charged with the 1984 murder of a girl in northern Colorado.

Steve Pankey, 69, of Twin Falls is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree murder after deliberation, second-degree kidnapping, and two sentence enhancements for committing a crime of violence, according to the indictment filed against him. The charges come in connection with the death of Jonelle Matthews, who went missing in Greeley in December 1984 at 12 years old. Pankey told authorities he was leaving to go to California with his wife that night, and didn’t hear about Matthews’ disappearance until he was on his way back.

Then in July 2019, excavators installing a pipeline found Matthews’ remains. During a press conference on Tuesday, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said the discovery of her remains was a turning point in the investigation.

A grand jury in Greeley, Colorado, roughly 60 miles northeast of Denver, returned the indictment on Friday, Rourke said.

According to the that indictment, Pankey was living in Greeley at the same time as the Matthews family. He was attending the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene Church when the Matthews family began attending in 1978, the indictment reads. The indictment says he lived in the same block as the Matthew family. The grand jury believes Pankey, armed with a gun, took her from her home the night of Dec. 20 and shot her. Her cause of death was determined to be a gunshot, according to the indictment.

The indictment doesn’t mean Pankey is guilty. It means the grand jury found there was enough evidence to move forward. Grand juries meet in secret and take the place of a public preliminary hearing during which a judge determines if there is enough evidence to proceed.

In the years after Matthews’ death, Pankey “inserted himself into the investigation” by “claiming to have knowledge of the crime which grew inconsistent and incriminating over time,” the indictment states.

According to the indictment, Pankey filed several pleadings over the years that included veiled and direct reference to Matthews. He would repeatedly ask for immunity in exchange for the information he had about the case, and in a 1999 pleading with the Idaho Supreme Court he argued that if the court ruled in a certain fashion, he would receive the death penalty for revealing the location of the location of Matthews’ body. That location was 10 miles north of where he lived in Greeley.

He also referenced information never released to the public, such as the fact that the suspect used a rake to destroy shoe impressions in the snow, the indictment states.

During the press conference, Rourke said Pankey became a person of interest in the case in early or mid-2018. Greeley police detectives spoke with Pankey in 2019, and after that he tried to delete his internet searches for information about Matthews’ case.

In 2019, Pankey sent a statement to KTVB asserting his innocence, and later claimed he’d been framed by police.

Pankey’s arrest came Monday, according to the Weld County District Attorney’s Office. Greeley police officers worked with local officers to arrest him in Meridian. He was booked into the Ada County Jail, where he remains. He does not currently have a court date, according to the office.

Asked to describe the reaction of the Matthews family, Rourke said it was one of “general relief.”

This article originally ran on idahopress.com.

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