WELD COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — After nearly four decades since the disappearance of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews, opening statements started in the trial for Steve Pankey, the man charged in her murder.
Matthews disappeared from her home in Greeley on Dec. 20, 1984. Her remains were found in July 2019 at a construction several miles away from the home.
Pankey maintains his innocence, although he’s charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping with a weapon. The official indictment from Weld County claims Pankey kidnapped Matthews at gunpoint while she was home alone.
Documents claim Pankey later shot Matthews in the head and used a rake to cover up foot tracks in the snow.
“Our girls were very good about letting us know, whether that was writing notes or calling us, if they were going to have a change of plans, so I started getting really concerned then,” said Jim Matthews, Jonelle’s father, who was first to take the stand on Wednesday.
Jonelle’s mother and older sister also answered questions for the jury, describing Jonelle as a lively girl that would light up every room.
“Right away, I had this feeling in my stomach that things were not right,” said Jonelle’s mother, Gloria Matthews, describing the call she got from her husband. “I knew Jonelle would have written a note or something. After the conversation, I hung up and cried for the rest of the night.”
Gloria was not home at the time of her daughter’s disappearance. She was visiting her parents in California.
In opening statements, Pankey’s lawyer claimed Pankey’s Asperger’s syndrome made him obsessive about the case, feeling the need to insert himself into the investigation even though he wasn’t involved.
However, Pankey gave several statements to police over the years that ultimately made him their prime suspect. He even asked police for immunity in exchange for evidence in the case.
Jonelle’s parents said Wednesday they did not know who Pankey was until police zeroed in on him during their investigation.