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Colorado prosecutors to pursue new murder trial for former Idaho governor candidate


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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Another murder trial appears to be on the horizon for an Idaho man accused of killing a 12-year-old girl in Colorado 37 years ago.

Steve Pankey, a 70-year-old Twin Falls resident and former candidate for Idaho governor, could face a new jury in Weld County, Colorado, where prosecutors have announced their intentions to seek a new trial, according to a report from the Denver Gazette.

Earlier this month, a jury deadlocked on felony murder and kidnapping charges against Pankey in connection with the killing of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews, who went missing in December 1984. The jury convicted Pankey on one misdemeanor count of false reporting to authorities.

Matthews and her family lived in Greeley, just north of Denver, and Pankey was a nearby resident. Matthews was missing for decades until an oil pipeline excavation crew found her body in a Weld County field on July 24, 2019.

Investigators alleged 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. Police also alleged that Pankey knew that a rake was used to hide footprints in the snow near the Matthews’ home, a detail not publicly disclosed.

Jonelle Matthews mug

According to the Gazette, Pankey’s attorney, Tony Viorst, told the jury that Pankey had an odd interest in the Matthews case, but taking an interest in true crime doesn’t mean he’s guilty of killing her.

Pankey was labeled as a person of interest during the police investigation, and authorities served a search warrant on his Twin Falls home in September 2019. A grand jury in Colorado indicted Pankey on the murder and kidnapping charges on Oct. 9, 2020. His trial began nearly a year later, on Oct. 5, and it ended in the mistrial on the most serious charges.

During a 2019 interview with the Idaho Statesman, Pankey said he had nothing to do with Matthews’ death. The girl lived 2 miles from Pankey’s residence at the time, and her body was found roughly 10 miles from Pankey’s former home.

Pankey, who moved to Idaho in 1987, was the Constitution Party candidate for Idaho governor in 2014. He unsuccessfully ran in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018, losing out to current Gov. Brad Little. He ran for Twin Falls County sheriff in 2020 and lost to current Sheriff Tom Carter.

Colorado records show that Pankey’s next court appearance will take place on Feb. 8 in Weld County.