Colorado 1984 Killing Trial

Steven Pankey is brought into the courtroom Thursday in Greeley. The trial of Pankey, a former longshot Idaho gubernatorial candidate charged in the killing of a 12-year-old Colorado girl, ended with jurors unable to reach verdicts on the murder and kidnapping charges.

Prosecutors will pursue a new trial for the man accused of the 1984 disappearance and death of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews after a jury deadlocked last week.

The jury convicted Steve Pankey, 70, last week of false reporting to authorities but could not reach a decision on the other charges against him, which include first-degree murder after deliberation, felony murder and second-degree kidnapping.

Jury deadlocks on murder, kidnapping charges against Steve Pankey in 1984 death of Jonelle Matthews

Oil and gas workers found Matthews' remains in a field in July 2019, and Greeley police began looking seriously at Pankey as a suspect that year. At trial prosecutors focused on claims he made throughout the decades of having knowledge about Matthews' disappearance and requests for immunity to give police information he had.

A spokesperson for the district attorney's office declined to comment on the case Monday.

Pankey's defense attorney, Tony Viorst, acknowledged during the trial Pankey had an unusual interest in Matthews' case, but said an obsession with true crime doesn't mean he killed her. Pankey has serious mental illness, his defense has also said.

Viorst focused on the lack of DNA linking Pankey to Matthews, and said the circumstantial evidence prosecutors presented was misleading.

He suggested during the trial that Norris Drake, a man who visited his mother's home near the Matthews' house the night Jonelle went missing, was responsible for her disappearance and death. He may have left that night during the window Matthews was home alone, and Viorst has suggested Drake had an interest in young girls. 

How Jonelle Matthews' 1984 disappearance rocked a Colorado town, and helped spotlight the plight of missing children

Drake has died and was never charged in connection with Matthews' disappearance.

Judge Timothy Kerns denied Viorst's request to modify Pankey's bond. He's being held in custody on a $5 million cash-only bond.

Viorst also withdrew as Pankey's attorney Monday, saying he doesn't have time or energy to devote to trying the case again given his small law practice and his age. The court appointed public defenders to represent Pankey. 

Pankey thanked Viorst for his work representing him.

"He did a great job for me, and he fought hard," he said.

Viorst told The Denver Gazette he continues to believe in Pankey's innocence and hopes a jury will exonerate him in the new trial. He said as soon as he heard the jury deadlocked last week, he thought about whether he had the capacity to provide the best possible defense in a retrial. 

"I thought that he might be better served having a new set of eyes looking at the case."

Pankey's new public defenders said they are looking into whether Pankey's new trial should be moved out of Weld County, given heavy media coverage of the case.

Kerns set a status hearing for 1:15 p.m. Nov. 17.


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