Killer or “true crime junkie”? Man’s long obsession with 1984 disappearance of 12-year-old girl at center of murder trial

Jonelle Matthews

Steven Pankey’s decades-long fixation on the 1984 disappearance of Greeley’s 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews is at the center of the murder case against him.

Whether that fixation is evidence of guilt or merely a true-crime obsession will be decided by a Weld County jury at the end of an approximately five-week trial that began with opening statements Wednesday.

Pankey, 70, is charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in Jonelle’s death. The girl disappeared while she was briefly home alone on Dec. 20, 1984. Her body was not discovered until 2019; she’d been shot in the forehead and buried in a remote, sandy field.

There is no DNA evidence in the case, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke told the jury during opening statements.

“What you will hear,” he said, “is the type of evidence older than time itself. Statements. Statements by the defendant himself. Statements and behavior that will lead you to one conclusion — that he is the individual we have been looking for for 35 years.”

Ada County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Office

Steven Pankey

But Pankey’s defense attorney, Anthony Viorst, said Pankey had nothing to do with Jonelle’s killing and theorized to the jury that another man whose mother lived across the street from the Matthews family carried out the killing.

Viorst said Pankey became obsessed with Jonelle’s case because he is a “true crime junkie,” and that he involved himself in the investigation out of an inflated sense of self-importance. Pankey lives with Asperger syndrome, which changes the way he processes information, Viorst said. He called Pankey “a little crazy” and said he tells ”white lies.”

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Aside from Jonelle’s case, Pankey previously claimed to be involved in a separate murder in the 1970s, Viorst said, but he was not involved and someone else was convicted of the crime.

“Steve Pankey is a busy body,” Viorst said. “He gets into people’s business. I’m not here to say that’s a great quality, but that’s who he is. He gets in the middle of things. And when it comes to these true crime situations, he’s particularly interested and he gets particularly involved.”

Pankey was home with his family when Jonelle went missing, Viorst said, and he did not own a gun at the time. But starting just weeks after the disappearance, Pankey for years claimed to have information about the case and sought immunity in exchange for sharing that information with police.

The day after Jonelle disappeared, Pankey took his then-wife and child on a surprise road trip to California to visit family. On the drive back, he listened to the radio obsessively for information about the girl’s case, Rourke said. When they arrived home, he drove his wife to a grocery store, asked her to pick up the last few days’ newspapers, and then had her read aloud, in the car, all of the stories about Jonelle. Over the next few days, he dug in his front yard and a car on his property burst into flames, Rourke said.

Within weeks, Pankey went to the FBI, claimed he was a …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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