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Ex-Idaho candidate appears in Colorado court in girl’s death

Associated Press

Associated Press

GREELEY, Colo. – A former longshot Idaho gubernatorial candidate charged with kidnapping and killing a 12-year-old Colorado girl who disappeared after a holiday concert over 30 years ago made his first court appearance in the state on Friday.

Steven D. Pankey went before a judge in Greeley for a brief hearing two days after being sent there to face prosecution in the killing of his former neighbor, Jonelle Matthews, in 1984. He appeared in person, wearing an orange jail uniform and a mask, standing next to his lawyer in a courtroom with limited capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Matthews’ parents and sister watched the proceedings remotely by video.

Judge Timothy Kerns told Pankey he would be held without bond for now. Pankey’s lawyer, Anthony Viorst, said he planned to ask Kerns to consider allowing him to be released on bond after a Dec. 4 hearing scheduled to weigh the evidence against him.

Pankey was arrested at his home in Meridian, Idaho, on Oct. 12, a day before prosecutors announced he had been indicted by a grand jury.

Jonelle’s family searched fruitlessly for years for her as her picture was printed on milk cartons during a national missing-children campaign in the 1980s. Her remains were not discovered until 2019. She died from a single gunshot wound to her forehead, according to prosecutors.

In the decades since he lived in Colorado, he has run as a Constitution Party candidate for Idaho governor in 2014 and in the Republican primary in 2018; it’s the same year authorities said he became a person of interest in the girl’s death.

Jonelle disappeared on Dec. 20, 1984, after being dropped at home by a friend and the friend’s father. She was last seen at 8 p.m., entering the ranch-style home where she lived with her father, Jim; mother, Gloria; and sister. But when her father returned from her sister’s basketball game an hour later, Jonelle was gone.

Jonelle was considered missing until workers digging a pipeline in July 2019 discovered human remains matching her dental records in a rural area southeast of Greeley, a city about 50 miles north of Denver. Police then labeled her death a homicide.

Last year, Pankey contacted the Idaho Statesman to tell his side of the story, fearing a possible arrest.

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 heard the news of a missing child on the radio.

The ex-wife told prosecutors the trip was unexpected. On the way home, Pankey “uncharacteristically listened to the radio, searching for news accounts of Jonelle’s disappearance,” according to the indictment.

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