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Murder trial begins in Colorado next week for former Idaho governor candidate Pankey

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Pankey

Steve Pankey, former candidate for Idaho governor, is under investigation in the 1984 cold-case killing of a 12-year-old girl in Greeley, Colorado. He talked with Statesman reporter Ruth Brown about his history with the case over the last 35 years.

TWIN FALLS — A former Idaho gubernatorial candidate will face a jury trial on charges of murder and kidnapping in Colorado next week.

Steven Pankey, a 70-year-old former Twin Falls resident, will go to trial starting Wednesday, according to a news release from the Weld County District Attorney’s Office.

Pankey is accused of killing 12-year-old Greeley, Colorado, girl Jonelle Matthews in 1984. The young girl went missing from her parents’ home on Dec. 20, 1984. Greeley is located in Weld County, north of Denver.

The girl remained missing for decades until a construction crew found her remains on July 24, 2019, in a Weld County field while excavating for a pipeline. Investigators later ruled that Matthews’ death was a homicide.

Jonelle Matthews

Jonelle Matthews

Just weeks after the girl’s body was found, Twin Falls police served a search warrant on Pankey’s condo on Elm Street North, according to previous Idaho Statesman reporting.

That same month, Pankey — who was labeled a person of interest during the initial police investigation in 1984 — was interviewed by the Idaho Statesman and said he had nothing to do with Matthews’ disappearance or death. Pankey told the Statesman that he was home with his then-wife on the night Matthews went missing. His family drove to California the following day to visit relatives, according to Pankey.

At the time of the girl’s disappearance, Pankey lived roughly 2 miles from the Matthews home. Her body was found about 10 miles from Pankey’s old residence.

On Oct. 9, 2020, Pankey was indicted on several felony counts, including murder and kidnapping. He was arrested in Idaho and extradited to Colorado.

According to charging documents in Pankey’s case, he allegedly used to watch children walk home from a nearby middle school that Matthews attended, and he attended the same church as the Matthews family.

Investigators also said Pankey knew a piece of evidence not publicly disclosed — that a rake was used to hide footprints in the snow around the Matthews home. Authorities also allege that Pankey “intentionally inserted himself into the investigation many times over the years, claiming to have knowledge of the crime which grew inconsistent and incriminating over time,” according to the indictment.

In the years between the girl’s disappearance and the discovery of her body, Pankey ran unsuccessfully for elected office multiple times in Idaho. Pankey, who moved to Idaho in 1987, was the Constitution Party candidate for Idaho governor in 2014, and in 2018, he ran unsuccessfully in the crowded Republican gubernatorial primary, won by current Gov. Brad Little.

Steve Pankey booking photo

Pankey

Most recently, Pankey ran for Twin Falls County sheriff in 2020, but lost to current Sheriff Tom Carter.

Pankey has been held in the Weld County jail since his October 2020 arrest. His trial is set to take place over five weeks in a Greeley courtroom.

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