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Mistrial declared after jury deadlocks on murder, kidnapping charges in Colorado girl's death

Jonelle Matthews, 12, disappeared in 1984. Her remains were found in 2019 in rural Weld County as workers were working on a pipeline.

Colorado jurors deadlocked on the most serious charges against a man who had been accused of killing a 12-year-old girl who vanished in 1984, officials said.

A mistrial was declared in the case of Steven Pankey, of Idaho, who was charged last year in the killing of Jonelle Matthews. Crews working on a pipeline found her remains in 2019 buried in a rural part of Weld County.

Jurors could not reach unanimous verdicts on two counts of murder and one count of kidnapping, the Weld County District Attorney's Office said. Pankey was convicted on one count of false reporting to authorities, which is a misdemeanor.

Image: Murder suspect Steve Pankey goes to trial in cold case from 1984.
Murder suspect Steven Pankey, listens to testimony on the first day of his trial at Weld County District Court, in Greeley, Colo., on Oct. 13, 2020.Helen H. Richardson / MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images file

Pankey's attorney told jurors that the 70-year-old inserted himself into the case while Jonelle was missing and lied for years about his knowledge in an attempt to boost his self-esteem, but that that does not make him a killer, NBC affiliate KUSA reported.

Prosecutors said Pankey made statements about the case over the years that included claims of knowledge about it, and later sought immunity from prosecution.

According to his indictment, Pankey discussed details about the killing that were not public, like that a rake had been used to get rid of shoe impressions in the snow.

Jonelle disappeared from her home in Greeley, Colorado, on Dec. 20, 1984, after performing in a Christmas concert. For decades, what happened to her was a mystery.

Her case was one of the first featured on a milk carton as part of a national campaign to distribute information about missing children. Then-President Ronald Reagan also mentioned her disappearance in remarks to journalists and urged newspapers to regularly publish information about missing children, according to records from the presidential library and museum.

Pankey, who twice launched long-shot bids for governor in Idaho, lived in Greeley at the time and attended the same church as the Matthews in 1978.

He was accused of killing Jonelle during the course of a kidnapping. She died of a gunshot wound to the forehead, officials have said.

Pankey was indicted by a grand jury in October of 2020.

Prosecutors have not decided whether to retry him, a spokesperson for the Weld County District Attorney's Office said.