Jonelle Matthews case: Steve Pankey found guilty of murder, kidnapping

After almost 38 years, the mystery of what happened to Jonelle Matthews on Dec. 20, 1984, has been solved.

A Weld County jury on Monday found Steve Pankey, 71, guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and false reporting. He is scheduled to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 7.

The jury entered deliberations Friday after closing arguments. Along with the guilty verdicts, the jury also found Pankey not guilty of first-degree murder after deliberation.

Twelve-year-old Jonelle Matthews disappeared from her Greeley home five days before Christmas in 1984. An investigation into her whereabouts ensued for 35 years until her remains were located by oil and gas workers in July 2019 in unincorporated Weld County.

Greeley police arrested Pankey in October 2020 after he was indicted by a grand jury. Last October, Pankey’s first trial ended with a hung jury on the murder and kidnapping charges. However, jurors then found him guilty of false reporting.

Prosecutors pursued a new trial for Pankey, introducing former testimony and arguing Pankey’s motive and intent in his crimes derived from his hatred toward law enforcement and members of the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene — where Jonelle’s family attended services.

After the 2021 trial, Pankey’s defense attorney Anthony Viorst withdrew from the case due to not having enough time or energy to handle another trial. Attorneys Jessica Brazil and Peter Harris were brought on to his defense.

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