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Steve Pankey maintains innocence after being convicted of 1984 murder of Jonelle Matthews

CBS Denver 11/1/2022 Dillon Thomas

Nearly 38 years after he murdered Jonelle Matthews and buried her body in a field, Steve Pankey was sentenced to life in prison on Monday afternoon. Pankey, who has maintained his innocence throughout two trials, was found guilty by a jury for the 1984 murder of the 12-year-old Matthews.  

"I just want to cry," said Gloria Matthews, Jonelle's mother.

The Matthews Family, consisting of Jonelle's parents and sister, were in the courtroom as Pankey was found guilty on three counts. The jury found him guilty of felony first-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and false reporting.  

He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

"It was a miracle, I have to give God credit for that," said Jim Matthews, Jonelle's father. "Until the body was found we were confined to the fact that we may never know what happened to her."

Jim and Gloria said, after 38 years of waiting for answers and two years of trials, the conviction brought a series of emotions to them.

"Obviously relief, closure, finality for our family and praising God for his help in this," Jim said.

The family was given the chance to address the court and Pankey, who sat shackled in an orange prisoner's jumpsuit and listened quietly not appearing to show emotions.  

Jonelle's parents spent their time speaking about how they hoped Pankey would seek forgiveness from God, noting that they haven't been able to reach forgiveness themselves.

"I cannot forgive him for how he killed Jonelle," Gloria said. "God is the only one who can forgive evil. And, I feel this is evil."

The Matthews did not address Pankey's actions during their statements, instead focusing their time on encouraging Pankey to repent of his sins. Gloria Matthews said she was still working on trying to forgive him one day.  

When given the chance to address the court Pankey kept his words few and insisted that he was not guilty of the crimes he was convicted of.

"I am a Christian. I will be in heaven. I am innocent and this is not justice for Jonelle," Pankey said.

The Matthews family thanked the Weld County District Attorney, Michael Rourke, and his fellow prosecutors. They also credited the Greeley Police Department for never giving up on their daughter's case. 

"We are not going to let this obsess and haunt us. We got the verdict that we want. But Steve Pankey is a human being, and he has a soul. And it's not too late for him to get right with God. He's still waiting for you, you are still breathing, you still have a chance," Jim Matthews said.  

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