A man who kidnapped and murdered a 12-year-old was free for nearly four decades. However, that was as long as he could elude investigators as he was found guilty nearly 40 years later and was recently sentenced to life in prison.
Steven Pankey, of Colorado, was sentenced to life in prison in late October for killing Jonelle Matthews in December 1984, according to KKTV. Greeley police stated that Matthews' remains were found in a field southeast of Greeley in July 2019.
“For over three decades the disappearance of Jonelle Matthews has haunted our community,” Greeley police wrote in a 2020 news release, according to KKTV. “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.”
Though Pankey received a life sentence, he will be eligible for parole after 20 years. Current Colorado law does not allow parole for those found guilty of first-degree murder, KKTV reported. However, the sentencing had to be aligned with the laws at the time of the crime, which allowed parole in first-degree murder cases.
"As these two trials have shown, you have been obsessed with your actions, and your consciousness could not let you forget," Jim Matthews, Jonelle's father, said, according to 9 News. "You have been a prisoner of your own mind.
"You've claimed to be a Christian on many occasions," Matthews added. "There's still hope for you. It is not too late to confess your sins, which is the first step to your forgiveness. The second step is to repent or turn away from your evil ways. ... It's up to you, and it's not too late, Steve Pankey."
Pankey, however, said in a statement that he did not agree with the result of the trial, 9 News reported. "I am a Christian, I will be in heaven," Pankey said. "I am innocent, and this is not justice for Jonelle."