Bond for Jonelle Matthews’ accused killer, Steve Pankey, has been set at $5 million.
Pankey, 69, appeared — donning a face mask and orange jail jumpsuit — before Weld County District Judge Timothy Kerns early Friday morning. It was his second court appearance in Weld County since being extradited there from his home state of Idaho, where he was arrested on Oct. 12 on charges of felony murder and kidnapping related to the disappearance and slaying of the 12-year-old Greeley girl.
Kerns imposed the bond following arguments from Assistant Weld County District Attorney Robb Miller, who suggested a $10 million bond for Pankey, painting him as a man of means with a history of harassing witnesses who inserted himself into the Matthews investigation within a month of her going missing.
Pankey’s attorney, Anthony Viorst, of Denver, suggested a $50,000 bond instead and contended his client was just a prickly person with a true crime obsession and propensity for doing “inappropriate things.”
Given the nature of Pankey’s charges — murder in the first degree after deliberation, murder in the first degree and second-degree kidnapping as well as two violent crime sentence enhancements — Kerns said he felt a $5 million cash-only bond was appropriate.
If Pankey were to be released on bond, Kerns said he could not attempt to posses a firearm or other weapon, he could not have contact with any named witness in the case, he would have to surrender his passport and could not leave Colorado without the court’s consent, among other conditions.
In just over two weeks, it will be 36 years since Matthews vanished from her family’s Greeley home on Dec. 20, 1984.
Matthews had been dropped off at the house following a middle school Christmas choir concert but was nowhere to be found when her father returned from her sister’s high school basketball game later that night. Matthews’ sister, Jennifer Mogensen, now lives out of state but attended the Friday hearing virtually.
On July, 23, 2019, more than three decades after Matthews’ disappearance, oil site crews digging for a pipeline in rural Weld County uncovered Matthews’ remains.
Following 2019 discovery:For 34 years, Colorado asked ‘Where is Jonelle Matthews?’ Now, it’s ‘Who killed her?’
A Weld County grand jury indicted Pankey for Matthews’ death in October, alleging Pankey kidnapped Matthews from her family’s Greeley home between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. that night, shot Matthews during the course of the kidnapping and later buried her body in the remote field.
The grand jury also alleged Pankey continually inserted himself into the investigation into Matthews’ disappearance and shared a key detail in the case previously only known to police — the fact that a rake had been used outside of the Matthews house that night to sweep away footprints in the snow.
Pankey also came into the Greeley Police Department as early as January 1985, claiming he was an ordained Baptist minister and that he thought one of his parishioners could have been involved in Matthews’ disappearance, Miller told the court Friday. At the time, Pankey reportedly asked for details in the case to compare what he knew with police, Miller said.
While Pankey’s grandfather and father were both ministers, he was a car salesman in Greeley at the time of Matthews’ disappearance, according to Miller.
Who is Steve Pankey?:Here’s what we know about the Idaho man accused of killing Jonelle Matthews
Pankey continually inserted himself into the case, writing letters to Miller’s office as recently as 2013, Miller said. In one letter sent in 2011, Miller said Pankey detailed how he and his family went on a road trip to California to visit his parents in the days after Matthews went missing. In the letter, he said he wouldn’t learn about Matthews’ disappearance until hearing news of it over the radio upon his family’s return to Colorado.
Miller said Pankey has a history of harassing witnesses, including a woman who had accused Pankey of rape in late 1977. The case was ultimately dismissed after the woman dropped the charges later that year, but Miller said Pankey continued contact even after the case was dismissed.
Miller also argued Pankey was a flight risk with means to flee, including roughly $1 million in an investment account and a home in Idaho valued at $400,000.
In response, Viorst said Pankey had “modest means,” much of which is going toward his defense in this case.
Viorst also noted that Pankey had never been arrested for harassing a witness and had never been convicted of a felony. Voist questioned who exactly Pankey was at risk of harassing in the Matthews case.
“Tragically, the main witness in this case is deceased,” Viorst told the court Friday.
Viorst argued there was no evidence Pankey kidnapped or killed Matthews, noting that instead Pankey had been obsessed with the case and was only on police radar because he consistently reached out to police regarding the case.
Pankey could only be charged with being “an erratic, prickly guy,” Viorst said. “That’s really his only offense here.”
Pankey’s next court appearance, a status conference, is set for Dec. 30 at 2 p.m.
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All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in court. Arrests and charges are merely accusations by law enforcement until, and unless, a suspect is convicted of a crime.
Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.