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Former Idaho gubernatorial candidate indicted in 1984 Greeley murder

Jonelle Matthews was 12 years old when she disappeared from her parents’ Greeley home on Dec. 20, 1984.

WELD COUNTY, Colo. — A Weld County grand jury has indicted a former Idaho gubernatorial candidate in the death of Jonelle Matthews, whose remains were found last year — 34 years after she was last seen alive.

Documents show Steven Dana Pankey, 69, is facing first-degree murder charges, a second-degree kidnapping with a weapon charge, as well as two-sentence enhancing crimes of violence counts.

RELATED: Former candidate for governor says he's being eyed in 1984 Greeley disappearance

RELATED: Grand jury to investigate death of Jonelle Matthews who disappeared in 1984

Matthews was 12 years old when she disappeared from her parents’ Greeley home on Dec. 20, 1984, following a Christmas concert. 

Weld District Attorney Michael Rourke in a news conference Tuesday said Pankey was arrested Monday at his home in Meridian, Idaho without incident. He is being held without bond awaiting extradition back to Colorado.

Credit: Ada County Sheriffs Office
Steve Pankey

Pankey – who ran for governor in 2014 and 2018 – disclosed in a 2019 interview with KTVB that he’d given a DNA sample in the case and that his home had been searched.

Rourke on Tuesday said there is no definitive link – DNA wise – between Pankey and Matthews' remains. 

According to the indictment, Pankey knew of and discussed a crucial piece of evidence from the Matthews family home – the evidence was withheld from the public by law enforcement – specifically that a rake was used to “obliterate shoe impressions in the snow.”

The indictment says Pankey took Mathews from her home between 8:30-9:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, 1984. At some point during the kidnapping, the indictment says Pankey shot Mathews “intentionally and after deliberation.”

Pankey would watch school children walk home from Franklin Middle School where Mathews attended, according to the indictment.

Pankey has inserted himself in the investigation several times over the years, the indictment says, including sending an alibi and attempting to delete evidence from electronic devices.

Pankey lived about 10 miles north of where Matthews’ body was found.

Her case stumped investigators and captivated the country for decades.

On July 24, 2019, a crew excavating at an oil and gas well in Weld County discovered her remains. Greeley Police said they recovered Matthews’ skull and some of the clothes she was wearing the night she disappeared.

Weeks later, her family and community members gathered for a closure ceremony to celebrate Matthews' life and honor her.

RELATED: Court releases heavily redacted Jonelle Matthews autopsy report

Pankey in 2019 said he offered to take a polygraph test, but investigators didn't want to do that.

Pankey lived in Greeley at the time Matthews disappeared, but he told the Idaho Statesman that he never met her or her family and knew nothing about the case until he saw news stories reporting her disappearance.

A copy of the 2019 search warrant posted on the Statesman website shows that investigators were looking for computer equipment – including floppy diskettes, hard drives, magnetic computer tapes --  as well as “any and all correspondence, diaries, memoirs, journals, personal reminiscences, electronic mail (e-mail), letters, notes, memorandum, or other communications in written or printed form, as these items pertain to allegations set forth in this affidavit, or that relate to the murder of Jonelle Matthews.” 

Pankey's attorney, Anthony J. Viorst, on Tuesday said, "The fact that they waited 36 years to indict him reflects the fact they don't have any evidence, there's never been any evidence. I anticipate he will be exonerated of all charges." 

>> This story draws from previous reporting from 9NEWS' Kevin Vaughan and Sonia Gutierrez. 

Video below: Former candidate for governor says he's being eyed in 1984 Greeley disappearance (from 2019)  

RELATED: 'I didn’t think she'd ever be found': Greeley community remembers Jonelle Matthews

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