GREELEY — A former longshot Idaho gubernatorial candidate on trial in the 1984 killing of a 12-year-old Colorado girl has testified that he did not know the girl or her family before she vanished and denied being involved in her disappearance.
At the time, Steve Pankey was a neighbor of Jonelle Matthew and her family in Greeley, Colorado, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver. The girl’s remains were found by oil and gas workers in 2019. She had been fatally shot.
Pankey first took the stand Thursday and returned to be questioned by the prosecution on Friday. He was charged with Jonelle’s murder last year after showing extreme interest in the case for many years and allegedly sharing details with investigators that had not been made public.
Pankey said in court that he pretended to know information about the case out of bitterness for police and for his former church and former employer, both of which he wanted investigated, KCNC-TV reported.
Most of his testimony on Thursday to questions by his lawyer was rambling and included comments about his hatred of racist police officers and of being bullied for being bisexual.
District Attorney Michael J. Rourke pressed him about his views about police during questioning Friday, which Pankey said came from seeing police officers humiliate and hurt Hispanic people while he was working for an ambulance service in California. Pankey said that he refused to put a splint on a sheriff’s deputy who broke his leg because of his beliefs about police, letting the deputy ride to the hospital in pain.
He said the deputy screamed for eight or 12 minutes.
“I sat there and watched,” Pankey said.
Pankey’s lawyer, Anthony Viorst, has argued that his client is obsessed with “true crime” mysteries and has Asperger syndrome, which causes his mind to process information differently and leads him to get “in middle of these things” to prove his own “self importance.”
Prosecutors said Pankey kept up to date on the case throughout the years even as he moved his family to several states before settling in Idaho where he ran unsuccessfully as a Constitution Party candidate for Idaho governor in 2014 and in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018, the year that authorities said he was named as a person of interest in the girl’s death.
Pankey contacted the Idaho Statesman newspaper to tell his side of the story after he became a person of interest.
He told the newspaper that he was home with his then-wife the night Jonelle went missing, their car packed for an early-morning trip the next day to visit family in California. They took the trip and returned home six days later in 1984, Pankey said, and he then heard the news about a missing child on the radio.
Pankey’s ex-wife, Angela Hicks, testified during the trial that the family had initially declined the invitation to travel to California but Pankey suddenly announced they were going on Dec. 21, 1984, the day after Jonelle disappeared.
Jonelle disappeared after she was dropped off at home by a friend and the friend’s father following a performance at a Christmas concert.
She was last seen at 8 p.m., entering the ranch-style home where she lived with her father, mother and sister. But when her father returned from her older sister’s basketball game an hour later, Jonelle was gone.