Trial starts in 1984 killing of girl shown on milk cartoon

A former longshot Idaho gubernatorial candidate on trial in the 1984 killing of a 12-year-old Colorado girl wasn’t even remotely considered a suspect to law enforcement until his obsession with the crime and incessant visits to talk with police about it provided clues that turned him into the suspect, prosecutors said Wednesday at the start of the man’s trial.

Steve D. Pankey, a repeat longshot candidate, was arrested last year in the death of Jonelle Matthews. The girl’s remains were found after her face appeared on milk cartons as one of the first missing children featured on them in an effort championed by former President Ronald Reagan. She had been fatally shot.

Pankey was a neighbor of the girl’s family in Greeley, Colorado, a city of nearly 108,000 residents about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver.

Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said during his opening statement that Pankey’s voluntary statements to law enforcement and journalists over the years, his intense interest in the case and strange behavior around the time of the murder recounted by his ex-wife prove his guilt.

“It’s almost as if the defendant periodically and with increasing frequency would walk up to law enforcement, tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘Here I am. Come and get me,’” Rourke said.

Pankey’s attorney, Anthony Viorst, countered that prosecutors’ circumstantial evidence, Pankey’s overbearing personality and his obsession with “true crime” mysteries is not enough to convict him of kidnaping and murder. Viorst said he planned to introduce testimony suggesting police should focus on a possible alternate suspect.

“Steve Pankey is a busybody… He gets in the middle of things,” Viorst said. “And when it comes to these true crimes situations, he’s particularly interested and he gets particularly involved.”

Jonelle was considered missing for more than 30 years until workers digging a pipeline in July 2019 discovered human remains matching her dental records in a rural area southeast of Greeley. Police then labeled her death a homicide.

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Jonelle died from a single gunshot wound to her forehead, Rourke said.

Rourke shared details of Pankey’s continuous, unwarranted visits and statements to law enforcement about the Matthews case.

Viorst said that Pankey’s obsession came because he has Asperger syndrome, which causes his mind to process information differently and leads him to get “in middle of these things” to prove his own “self importance.”

Viorst gave several examples of other crimes that Pankey inserted himself in by alleging to law enforcement that he had evidence or that he was directly involved.

Prosecutors said Pankey frequently contacted law enforcement offering to share information about the case that he said he learned from a pastoral confession that was not described in more detail, but would only do so in return for immunity from prosecution.

Rourke said Pankey’s wife said he was never a pastor. Pankey also commented on a Greeley Tribune online article about the case, writing: “Without a deal, this case may never be resolved,” Rourke said.

Prosecutors said Pankey kept up to date on the case throughout the years even as he …read more

Source:: Headlines News4jax

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