Mistrial declared for ex-Idaho politician charged with 1984 murder of Colorado girl

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado judge declared a hung-jury mistrial on Thursday in the kidnapping-murder case against a two-time Idaho gubernatorial candidate charged with the 1984 slaying of a 12-year-old girl whose remains were unearthed over three decades later.

The bulk of the case against Steven Pankey, 70, was dismissed after the 12-member jury reported on the third day of deliberations it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on charges that Pankey kidnapped and murdered Jonelle Matthews, court officials said.

Jurors did find Pankey guilty on one count of false reporting to authorities, according to Krista Henery, a spokeswoman for the Weld County District Attorney’s Office.

Court officials said Judge Timothy Kerns set a status hearing in the case for next Monday to address the potential refiling of kidnapping and murder charges, in addition to bond and sentencing on the false reporting count.

The hung jury, which began its deliberations at midday on Tuesday, capped a three-week trial stemming from Matthews’ death.

The girl vanished in December 1984 from her Greeley, Colorado, home, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Denver, where she was dropped by off by a family friend after singing at a Christmas concert.

Her disappearance remained a mystery for more than 34 years until 2019, when an excavation crew working on a pipeline in rural Weld County uncovered human remains, which were later identified as those of Matthews.

She died from a gunshot wound to the head, authorities said.

Pankey surfaced as a person of interest in the cold case when he would periodically insert himself into the investigation by making “incriminating” statements to various people, police said. He was indicted in 2020 and transferred back to Colorado.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Writing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

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