GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4)– Choosing to testify in his own defense, Steve Pankey was grilled by prosecutors who say he murdered 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews in December 1984. Though there is no physical evidence or DNA that linked Pankey to the murder, prosecutors exposed his revolving and at-times confusing account when it came to his connection to Matthews.
Pankey, wearing a suit and tie, sat for hours before a jury and was cross-examined by Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke. Multiple times Pankey confessed to being a compulsive liar, yet always denied being responsible for Matthews’ death.
“You’re a master manipulator, right?” Rourke asked.
“Maybe,” Pankey responded
For the second day in a row, Pankey told stories of how his obsession with the Matthews case was rooted in lies.
He claimed he often tried to get out of other charges he faced in unrelated matters by dangling information he claimed to have about Matthews’ death. Pankey claimed he only pretended to have information on the case as a way to mislead officers who he believed were rooted in racism.
“You have tried to use Jonelle Matthews as leverage, haven’t you?” Rourke asked.
“Yes,” Pankey confessed.
Pankey, a self-described poor example of a Christian, said his faith prohibited him from ever hurting Jonelle or lying before a jury.
“Thou shalt not murder,” Pankey said.
“What is the 9th commandment?” his lawyer asked.
“Don’t bear false witness,” Pankey said.
“Is that why you came out today?” his lawyer asked.
“Yes,” Pankey responded.
One point Rourke revisited on multiple occasions was Pankey’s requests for immunity from prosecution, requests which were made before he was ever identified as a suspect.
“You’re asking for immunity, demanding it, for murder and kidnapping, before you will say anything about Jonelle Matthews, right?” Rourke asked.
“You don’t know what is in my head,” Pankey said.
“I am trying to get there,” Rourke said, causing both himself and Pankey to laugh.
Pankey, on multiple occasions, told the jury he feared he would one day be asked to testify against Jonelle Matthews’ family, specifically her father. However, he also told the court many times that he never knew the family, nor had ever talked with them. Rourke questioned why Pankey would be asked to testify against Matthews’ family if he didn’t have a connection.
Rourke asked if Pankey was implying Matthews’ father killed her.
“He, his wife and his daughter were totally truthful. I think they are totally innocent,” Pankey said.
Previously made, and recorded, phone calls were brought into question. Pankey confessed to using code words when talking with his sister from jail, at times ordering her to move firearms he owned.
A letter Pankey sent to investigators before he was a named suspect showed he admitted to having violent encounters with women in the past.
Pankey said he did write the letter.
Rourke noted that Pankey said women, making sure to emphasize more than one female was being referenced.
“Is the other one Jonelle Matthews?” Rourke asked.
Pankey sat in silence for several seconds before saying no.
When given the opportunity to ask questions themselves, some from the jury questioned Pankey on his series of timelines from 1984.
Others questioned his knowledge of the case, and noted his extreme proximity and connections to both the church where Matthews was last seen and the field where her body was found decades later.
Though his testimony was confusing to follow at many times, and often went off topic, Pankey stayed firm on one thing. He never once said he was the one who killed Jonelle.
“When you shot Jonelle Matthews in the forehead, was she begging for her life?” Rourke asked.
“Never happened,” Pankey said.
“Did you look in her eyes?” Rourke asked.
“Never happened,” Pankey said.