Jury Hung on Whether Former Gubernatorial Candidate Kidnapped, Killed 12-Year-Old Girl

Jurors could not reach a verdict Thursday in the trial of Steve Pankey, a one-time fringe Idaho gubernatorial candidate who testified in his own defense when charged with kidnapping and killing a 12-year-old girl.

The jury deemed Pankey guilty of false reporting. But could not determine his guilt when it came to the stronger charges in a trial that stemmed from the disappearance and death of Jonelle Matthews from her family home, that Pankey lived near, decades ago.

Jonelle's body was found in 2019 after a search that spanned four decades and included her photo on the side of milk cartons. She vanished after being dropped at her empty home following a performance in a Christmas concert in Greeley, Colorado. Pankey claimed to have information about the disappearance 30 years later and asked for immunity.

Jonelle was considered missing until workers digging a pipeline in a rural area near Greeley in July 2019 discovered human remains. The discovery matched her dental records.

At trial, Pankey said he went to police in an attempt to get them to investigate his former church and former employer because he was upset with both. He denied being involved in Jonelle's disappearance.

Pankey will be sentenced at a hearing on Monday for the false reporting conviction. Prosecutors need to decide if they will again put him on trial for kidnapping and murder.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Kidnapping, Jonelle Matthews, Steven Pankey
In this August 12, 2019 photo, Jennifer Mogensen holds a poster of her adopted sister, Jonelle Matthews, who went missing and whose remains were found in Greeley, Colorado. Steven Pankey, a former longshot Idaho gubernatorial candidate, was charged with kidnapping and killing Jonelle, but his trial ended in a hung jury. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke pressed for Judge Timothy Kerns to offer an instruction encouraging jurors to reach a verdict but Kerns said further deliberation would not change anyone's verdict, the Greeley Tribune reported.

Pankey, described by his lawyer as a paranoid true crime junkie, testified in his own defense, delivering sometimes rambling testimony.

Pankey was a neighbor of Jonelle and her family when she disappeared. He emerged as a person of interest in the case shortly before Jonelle's body was found in 2019.

Lacking physical evidence, the prosecution relied heavily on testimony from Pankey's ex-wife who said that Pankey unexpectedly announced the night that Jonelle disappeared that they were leaving to visit family in California early the next day. It also pointed to Pankey's unwarranted visits and statements to law enforcement about the case, including sharing information it said had not been made public.

Pankey's lawyer, Anthony Viorst, told jurors that Pankey, diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, was a "jerk" to his ex-wife and others but was not a murderer. He also tried to generate reasonable doubt about his client's involvement by raising the possibility of an alternate suspect.

During his testimony, Pankey spoke about being bullied for being bisexual and his hatred of racist police officers from his time working on an ambulance in California. In one example, he spoke about withholding treatment from an injured sheriff's deputy who was crying in pain because of his view of police.

Prosecutors said Pankey kept up to date on the case throughout the years even as he moved his family to several states before settling in Idaho where he ran unsuccessfully as a Constitution Party candidate for Idaho governor in 2014 and in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018, the year that authorities said he was named as a person of interest in the girl's death.

Jonelle's family searched fruitlessly for years and her picture was printed on milk cartons during a national missing-children campaign in the 1980s.

Jonelle's death was ruled a homicide following the discovery of her body. She died from a single gunshot wound to the head, prosecutors said.