Man sentenced for kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Colorado girl

A man was sentenced for the murder of a 12-year-old girl nearly 40 years ago.
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 4:07 PM MDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2022 at 5:55 AM MDT
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GREELEY, Colo. (KKTV) - Nearly 40 years after a Colorado girl was kidnapped and murdered, the man found responsible was sentenced for the unthinkable crime.

On Monday, the Weld County District Attorney’s Office announced Steven Pankey was found guilty of second-degree kidnapping and felony first-degree murder for the death of Jonelle Matthews. The heinous act was carried out in December of 1984. According to Greeley Police, the remains of Matthews were uncovered in July of 2019, in a field southeast of Greeley. Matthews was only 12 when she went missing.

“For over three decades the disappearance of Jonelle Matthews has haunted our community,” Greeley Police wrote in a 2020 news release. “With the nation rallying behind us, citizens throughout Greeley offered assistance large and small. Donations poured in for the Matthews family, volunteers scoured the vast expanse of Weld County searching for Jonelle; churches rallied their congregations with prayer vigils. The populace united around the Matthews family; Jonelle became a daughter to us all.”

According to Krista Henery, the director of community relations for the Weld County District Attorney’s Office, Pankey was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. Under current Colorado law, first-degree murder carries an automatic sentence to life in prison without parole, but the judge in this case had to provide the sentence based off the law at the time the crime happened in 1984.