Crime & Justice News- October 14, 2020

Pair of nearly 40 year-old cold case murders solved. Michigan assault this past May upgraded to federal hate crime. Murder in Death Valley?

Cold Cases Solved

Suspect indicted for murder in 1984 disappearance and death of Greeley’s Jonelle Matthews (Denver Post)

The remains of the 12-year-old girl were discovered in a rural Weld County field last year
Ada County, Idaho, Sheriff’s OfficeSteven Pankey

At his murdered son’s funeral in 2008, Steven D. Pankey made a strange statement.

“I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews,” he said, his ex-wife told authorities.

On Tuesday, the 69-year-old man was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and related counts in the 1984 killing of 12-year-old Jonelle after a pattern of erratic and unhinged behavior over more than three decades led Weld County investigators to suspect the Idaho resident in the 36-year-old cold case that riveted the region and drew national attention for years.

Jonelle went missing on Dec. 20, 1984, snatched from her Greeley home when she returned to an empty house after singing Christmas carols at a nursing home. A grand jury indictment released Tuesday reveals that investigators now believe Pankey forced her from her home at gunpoint, then shot her in the forehead.

The indictment does not indicate a motive for the attack, but says Pankey, who lived in the area at the time and attended the same church as the Matthews family, was known to watch middle school students as they walked home from Franklin Middle School, where Jonelle attended.

Jonelle’s remains were not found until found 2019, when a construction crew discovered them in a remote area of Weld County. District Attorney Michael Rourke said during a news conference Tuesday that Jonelle was killed wearing the same clothes she had on when she disappeared.

Rourke’s office declined to comment on a motive for the attack or say whether investigators believe the girl was sexually assaulted.

Jonelle’s sister, Jennifer Mogensen, said Tuesday the family was excited to see the arrest, but that it’s bittersweet.

“This is a great first step,” she said. She described her sister as strong-willed, bossy and determined, and said she was grateful for the work law enforcement put in on the case.

Man indicted in nearly 40-year-old cold case murder of teacher in Raleigh County (WCHS)

Raleigh County’s prosecutor says a man currently incarcerated in California has been indicted in Raleigh County for the murder of a Beckley school teacher who was found dead on the eve of her wedding in 1981
Cynthia Miller

BECKLEY, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — A man currently incarcerated in California has been indicted in Raleigh County for the murder of a Beckley school teacher who was found dead on the eve of her wedding in 1981.

Earl James Robbins, 64, was indicted last week for first-degree murder, Raleigh County Prosecutor Kristen Keller said.

Investigators said Robbins shot and killed Cynthia Miller, 27, inside her home on Miller Street in Beckley on Aug. 26, 1981. She was set to be married to a Lester Police Department officer the next day.

Earl James Robbins

Robbins was also indicted for the use of a firearm in Miller’s death. Keller explained Robbins was additionally indicted for other crimes that involved a separate victim, who was a minor at the time.

“These crimes came to the knowledge of law enforcement in this investigation,” Keller said.

In that case, Robbins is charged with an October 1980 abduction, kidnapping and first-degree sexual assault of a child.

“The investigation is like following a spider web. One witness leads to another witness. These gentlemen have been investigating all over the country and talked to scores of witnesses, who would then give the name of another witness. In that way, contact was made with the victim, who was minor in October of 1980. Further investigation of that abduction, kidnapping and sexual assault ensued,” Keller said.

Law enforcement would not reveal Robbins’ relationship to Miller.

“Mr. Robbins was known at that time, he was a person in the original file that we spoke to, but I can’t get in to any more detail than that,” Sgt. Morgan Bragg of the Beckley Police Department said.

Keller said that is is “a question for now that we best not answer.”

In 2017, investigators said they put together a task force to investigate cold cases in the area and said the Miller case was one of the first ones they came across.

“I’ve not heard a cross word or a bad thing about Cynthia Miller,” Bragg said. “She was just such a good clean, honest, innocent victim.”

Officials in Raleigh County say they plan to start the extradition process to bring him to West Virginia to face the new charges.

Hate Crime

Michigan Attack on Black Teen Draws U.S. Hate Crime Charge (NYTimes)

A white man, Lee James Mouat, repeatedly used racial slurs before striking the teenager with a bike lock, witnesses told prosecutors.
Lee James Mouat yelled “Black lives don’t matter” at the victim and his friends before the attack, a witness told investigators.
Lee James Mouat yelled “Black lives don’t matter” at the victim and his friends before the attack, a witness told investigators.Credit…Monroe County Sheriff’s Office

A white Michigan man was charged with a federal hate crime on Tuesday in an attack on a Black teenager during which he repeatedly used racial slurs before striking him in the face with a bike lock, prosecutors said.

The man, Lee James Mouat, 42, of Newport, also said that the Black teenager and his friends were “playing gang music” and “don’t belong on this beach,” in the confrontation at Sterling State Park, about 38 miles south of Detroit, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of Michigan.

The encounter, on June 6, came less than two weeks after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, which touched off protests around the country against police brutality and systemic racism.

Mr. Mouat was arrested shortly after the attack, which left the victim, Devin Freelon, 18, with a “facial fracture, facial lacerations and the loss of several teeth,” according to the complaint.

Mr. Mouat is already facing state felony charges of assault and ethnic intimidation. The new federal charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

A lawyer for Mr. Mouat did not respond to a telephone message Tuesday evening.

One witness said Mr. Mouat referred to the victim and his friends with a racial slur and also called them “monsters,” according to the complaint. “I want to hit them with this cooler” and “I wish someone would say something to me so I can beat them,” he said, according to this witness.

Another witness told investigators that Mr. Mouat yelled “Black lives don’t matter” at the victim and his friends before the attack.

A friend of the victim told investigators that Mr. Mouat yelled at them twice, saying, “This is my beach.” Both times he referred to them as a racial slur, this friend said. He also said Mr. Mouat told the group that “I’ve got something for you in my car,” before he attacked the victim with the bike lock.


Grand Jury Indicts Former Assistant For The Brutal Murder Of CEO Fahim Saleh (Forbes)

A Manhattan Grand Jury on Tuesday indicted Tyrese Haspil with first degree murder in the brutal murder his former employer, tech CEO and entrepreneur Fahim Saleh.


  • Haspil, accused of murdering and dismembering Saleh on July 13, pleaded not guilty.
  • Prosecutors said there was an “overwhelming” amount of evidence Haspil murdered Saleh, including video footage Haspil at a Home Depot buying an electric saw and cleaning supplies that were found at the scene of murder, according to NBC 4 New York.
  • Police claim they were able to identify Haspil from the anti-felon identification cards that were ejected from the taser Haspil allegedly used to incapacitate Saleh once he got into his apartment, NBC reported.


Police said Haspil killed Saleh in the CEO’s Manhattan apartment on July 13. The following day, Haspil allegedly returned to Saleh’s apartment and used an electric saw to remove his head and limbs in attempt to hide evidence of the murder, but was interrupted and left through a service exit when Saleh’s sister came to check on him. Saleh reportedly had recently discovered Haspil stole some $90,000 dollars from him, and instead of turning him over to the authorities, fired Haspil and arranged a payment plan so he could return the stolen money, which New York Police Department detectives believe was the motive for the murder. Haspil was found and arrested on June 21, allegedly lying low less than a mile from the crime scene at an $18,000 per month AirBnB. He also faces charges of grand larceny, burglary, and concealment of a human corpse, among others. He is due back in court on January 11, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office told Forbes.


Saleh was the CEO of Nigerian motorcycle ride-share start-up Gokada, which raised $5.3 million in venture capital in June 2019. As an entrepreneur his investments ranged from prank calling app PrankDial to VC fund Adventure Capital. 

Is this the first Death Valley murder in modern memory? (LA Times)

Authorities say they have arrested a suspect in a shooting death that may be Death Valley National Park’s first murder in years.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park.

Park officials said the shooting happened along the eastern edge of the park near the community of Amargosa Valley, Nev. The suspect is Zachary Salyer, a 34-year-old resident of Amargosa Valley, the National Park Service said.

The NPS reported that Salyer called the Nye County, Nev., sheriff’s office on Sunday at 7:15 a.m. to say that he had shot someone.

Salyer told authorities the victim was on a dry lake bed in Amargosa, the NPS said.

The Inyo County Coroner’s Office identified the victim as Charles Cherrier, 58, of Amargosa Valley, Nev.

Arrested by the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, Salyer was charged with first-degree murder and taken to the Inyo County Jail., with bail set at $1 million, the NPS said. An Inyo Sheriff’s spokesman Carma Roper said the investigation remains open and that the victim and a car were found at the scene.

Named for the hardships that westbound settlers suffered in the 19th century, the thinly populated, 3.4-million-acre Death Valley National Park reaches across the California-Nevada border. Park spokeswoman Abby Wines said most deaths in the park are attributed to car accidents, medical events, heat exposure or suicide.

As for homicides, Wines said, “we haven’t had any since we’ve been on digital records. Basically, no one can remember the last time we had a homicide in the park. I’ve been here 15 years.”

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