By Jennifer McRae

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) — An Idaho man charged in a nearly four-decades-old case that gripped Colorado pleaded not guilty in the murder of Jonelle Matthews. Steve Pankey pleaded not guilty to kidnapping and murder in a Greeley courtroom on Wednesday.

Jonelle Matthews (credit: CBS)

It was Dec. 20, 1984 when 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews sang in a concert and was dropped at home by a friend and the friend’s father. She was last seen at 8 p.m., entering the ranch-style home where she lived with her father, Jim; mother, Gloria; and sister. But when her father returned from her sister’s basketball game an hour later, Jonelle was gone.

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Pankey lived nearby and attended her church. Prosecutors have claimed Pankey inserted himself into the case over a period of years.

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(credit: CBS)

The search for Jonelle was relentless. Rewards failed to turn up clues. Jonelle was considered missing until workers digging a pipeline in July 2019 discovered human remains matching her dental records in a rural area southeast of Greeley, a city about 50 miles north of Denver. Police then labeled her death a homicide. The investigation zeroed in on Pankey.

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(credit: CBS)

The judge set the trial for July 15. The defense indicated they will ask for a chance of venue to move the trial out of Greeley. Pankey remains in custody on a $5 million bond.

Jennifer McRae