Stephen Punkey’s perennial fixation on the 1984 disappearance of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews Greeley is at the center of a murder case against him.
Whether the fixation is evidence of guilt or simply an obsession with a crime will be decided by a Weld County jury at the end of a roughly five-week trial that began with opening statements on Wednesday.
Punky, 70, is charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in connection with Jonelle’s death. The girl disappeared when she was at home alone for a short time on December 20, 1984. Her body was only discovered in 2019; she was wounded in the forehead and buried in a remote sandy field.
Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke told the jury during opening statements that there is no DNA evidence in this case.
“What you will hear,” he said, “is evidence older than time itself. Statements. Statements of the defendant himself. Statements and behavior that will lead you to the same conclusion – that this is the person we have been looking for 35 years. “
But Punky’s lawyer, Anthony Wiorst, said Punky had nothing to do with Jonella’s murder, and suggested to the jury that the murder was committed by another man whose mother lived across the street from the Matthews family.
Wiorst said that Punky became obsessed with the Jonel case because he was a “real crime addict” and that he was involved in the investigation himself because of an overblown sense of self-importance. According to Wiorst, Punky lives with Asperger Syndrome, which changes the way information is processed. He called the Punks “a little crazy” and said he was “lying.”
Aside from the Jonel case, Punky previously claimed to have been involved in a separate murder in the 1970s, Wiorst said, but he was not involved and someone else was found guilty of the crime.
“Steve Punky is a very busy man,” Wiorst said. “He gets into people’s affairs. I’m not here to say it’s great quality, but he is. He finds himself in the center of events. And when it comes to real criminal situations, he is especially interested and especially involved. “
Punky was at home with his family when Jonelle went missing, Wiorst said, and he had no weapons at the time. But just a few weeks after the disappearance, Panki claimed for years that he had information about this case, and sought immunity in exchange for sharing this information with the police.
The day after Jonelle’s disappearance, Punkey took his then-wife and child on a surprise trip to California to visit the family. On the way back, he listened obsessively to the radio for information on the girl’s case, Rourke said. When they arrived home, he took his wife to the grocery store, asked her to pick up the newspapers for the past few days, and then made her read aloud all the stories about Jonella in the car. Over the next few days, Rourke said, he started digging in his front yard and a car caught fire on his site.
A few weeks later, Punky went to the FBI, said that he was a minister (which he was not), and said that he learned the information about the murder from a pastoral confession. According to Rourke, the FBI dismissed these allegations as unimportant. But that was the start of Punk’s long-term obsession.
Data downloaded from Punkey’s electronic devices show that he has conducted thousands of online searches on the Jonelle case. In August 2019, Rourke said, a month after Jonelle’s body was discovered, he clicked on a news article that noted that there was no DNA in this case.
“Two days later, he voluntarily picks up the phone and says, ‘I want to voluntarily donate my DNA,’ after he finds out that there is no DNA in this case.”
Wiorst told the jury that a man named Norris Drake was Jonelle’s real killer. According to Wiorst, Drake’s mother lived across the street from the family, and he came to dinner on the night of Jonelle’s disappearance. He said that the witness described how Drake left his mother’s house around the time Jonelle was home alone and did not return until early in the morning.
Drake is known to have a sexual interest in young girls, Wiorst said, suggesting that Drake lured Jonelle out of her house – perhaps winning her trust by saying he was her neighbor’s son – and then killed her. Drake, who is dead, has never been charged with kidnapping or murdering Jonelle.
Jonelle’s parents and sister took the position on Wednesday. Jim Matthews described his adopted daughter as an outgoing girl.
“Strong-willed, (she) loved attention, she had many friends,” he said. “If Jonelle was in the room, you knew she was in the room. And (she) was very proud of her Latin American past. And just a very cheerful young lady.
Jonelle’s mother, Gloria Matthews, who flew to California before Jonelle disappeared on December 20, 1984, revealed that she called her husband to inform him that she had arrived safely, only to hear from him that Jonelle was missing.
“And right away I had a feeling in my stomach that something was wrong,” she said. “Because Jonelle would write a note or something … I hung up and all I did was cry for the rest of the night.”
The next day, she flew home, shortening the trip. For Christmas dinner, Gloria Matthews has prepared a place at the table for her missing daughter.
“It was like she was coming home,” she said.