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Crime and Courts

$5 million bond for man accused of killing 12-year-old Greeley girl in 1984

Prosecutors said that there was enough circumstantial evidence to charge Steve Pankey, 69, with the killing of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews

GREELEY — A Colorado judge set a $5 million bond on Friday for a man who is accused of kidnapping and murdering a 12-year-old girl in 1984.

Prosecutors said that there was enough circumstantial evidence to charge Steve Pankey, 69, with the killing of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews. Her body was found in July 2019 — 35 years after her death — by construction workers digging a pipeline in a rural area southeast of Greeley, a city some 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver.

Steven Pankey mugshot. (Provided by Weld County District Attorney’s Office)

Weld County Assistant District Attorney Rob Miller pointed to an incident in 1985 in which Pankey went to the Greeley Police Department and claimed he was an ordained Baptist minister and that a parishioner told him information about the case, Miller said. Police said they determined that Pankey had never been an ordained minister and that he was trying to glean more information about the status of the murder investigation.

Prosecutors also referred to an alibi letter Pankey sent to the district attorney’s office in 2011. The letter contained details about Pankey’s family trip after Jonelle’s disappearance. The details were not consistent with the information investigators had initially compiled from Pankey. He had claimed to have gotten gas at a Texaco when there wasn’t one in Greeley and he said he did not own more than one car while he was a car salesman with several cars in 1984, the Greeley Tribune reported.

The 69-year-old also filed two documents prosecutors said raised alarm. In a 1999 document, Pankey told investigators they could not solve Matthews’ case without his cooperation, Miller said. In a 2003 document, Pankey said he had relevant information about the case and that he wanted to make a deal in order to provide the location of Matthews’ body without needing to provide names, Miller said.

Jonelle Matthews was 12 years old when she went missing in 1984. Her body was recently found near Greeley (Handout)

Pankey’s defense attorney Anthony Viorst said all of the information presented had nothing to do with Matthews’ murder.

Pankey is facing two first-degree murder charges, two violent crime charges and one second-degree kidnapping charge. All are felonies.

The provisions of Pankey’s bond prevent him from leaving the state without written authorization, contacting any listed witnesses and possessing firearms. He will be tracked by GPS and was also required to surrender his passport.

The case’s next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 30.

Rising Sun