Over the past three years Honeysuckle has followed the case of Matthew Baker, a young man who has been in jail since 2016 based on suspicions of his involvement in an incident known as The Bonfire Killings. Read more about the background of the case here.

Today we bring you the incredible news that Matthew Baker has been declared not guilty! This is the second time in Honeysuckle's history that our reportage has contributed to an incarcerated citizen's release. Prison reform and human rights advocacy continues to be crucial to our ethos.

Matthew Baker Jr. Found Not Guilty On All 30 Counts

After seven and a half years of sitting in Henry County Detention Center, 26-year-old Matthew Baker Jr. is finally free after being acquitted on 30 charges in connection to the “bonfire killings” from 2016. 

Some say much of the jury’s decision to come to the not guilty verdict was swayed by the testimony of the sole witness called by the defense: Jacob Kosky. Kosky pleaded guilty to the murder of Sophia Bullard, Destiny Olinger, Keith Gibson and Matthew Hicks after he fatally shot them at a bonfire party on Moccasin Gap Road in the wee hours of October 27, 2016. 

During the trial, the state called Sergeant (then-detective) David LeCroy and retired detective John Gleason from the Henry County Police Department to comment on their conversations with Kosky immediately following the incident.

Matthew Baker Jr. (left) and Jacob Kosky (right) after their arrests in 2016. Screengrab via FOX5 Atlanta News.

Jacob Kosky’s Statements to the Police

In an audio recording of Kosky’s conversation with multiple HCPD officers, Kosky asked about his charges before saying, “I’m f-cked either way.” As the detectives continued to pry for information, Kosky then blurted out “I know what I did. I killed everybody in the house. Two in the head. Everybody I saw.”

He then said if he saw “that dude,” in reference to witness Dalton Wyatt, he would’ve shot him too. Kosky stated a “Black dude” was with him, but denied that it was Matthew Baker when detectives asked. Kosky then admitted again to the killing, saying there was no motive and no reason behind it, but that he did feel bad. He also stated the four victims were face-down on the ground when they were shot. Moments later, he asked the detectives if he was on the news. Kosky then circled back to this mysterious Black person he mentioned earlier, saying, “The Black kid I was with didn’t kill anybody.” Kosky then said he met with the individual behind the barn before the shooting. When detectives continued inquiring about Baker, Kosky was heard asking “How is he even involved?” to which detectives respond, “His name got thrown out there.”

A few moments later in the recording, he explains he is schizophrenic and says, “The voices, they said ‘get em, kill everybody in that house.’” 

In a video interview with Sgt. LeCroy, Kosky stated once again Baker was with him at the scene of the crime. He also stated he gave Baker a gun but told him he didn't have to do anything with it. Kosky then claimed that the only gun used in the shooting was the one he held, despite forensic evidence confirming bullets from both guns were recovered from the victims’ bodies. 

LeCroy ended his testimony saying he didn’t recall being told by Kosky that Baker was armed. 

More Conflicting Accounts From Kosky

Kosky’s mother, Ginny Walton, was called to the stand by the State to testify about a recorded call she had with her son from the jail’s phone. The State said there were three in total they pulled, but only played one for the court during testimony.  

On the recording, Ms. Walton is heard asking, “Did the other boy shoot anybody?” 

Kosky replied, “Yeah,” but never specified who he was talking about. 

His mother then went on to claim on the stand Kosky told her verbatim that Baker was the other shooter. She also said Kosky would repeatedly claim that “Someone shot three and someone shot one” without providing details as to whom he was referring. Ms. Walton also stated she believed Kosky only began taking “full accountability” for the shooting as of 2021 when he was contacted by a “social media influencer.” It is believed she was referring to U.S. House of Representatives write-in candidate and Fighting Against Institutionalized Railroading (F.A.I.R.) co-founder Damita Bishop, who has been vocal about the JPay messages she received from Kosky. 

The defense came back with a transcript of a second jail call that was not played where Kosky’s mother asked if it was true that he was the only shooter. 

“I just saw on the news you’re the only shooter. You told me Matthew shot,” Capital Defender Christian Lamar read of Walton’s words from the transcript. 

“No, I did,” said Kosky, as read from the transcript. Kosky later testified that he told his mother on the call that he was the only shooter. 

At some point, the defense asked Ms. Walton if she remembered when her son took full accountability for the shooting before 2021, back in 2019 when he pleaded guilty but mentally insane to the killings. Walton said she did not recall.

Jacob Kosky’s Fiery Testimony

As much anticipated, Kosky was able to take the stand. Kosy stated that at the time of the shooting, he’d been without his mental health medication for 36 days. He also said he’d been unlawfully discharged from a psychiatric facility. However, he stated on the day of his testimony, he was given two different medications. 

In regards to the incident, Kosky testified that no one knew what he was going to do - neither the killings nor stealing the two guns. He stated that he told Brooke Knight he was getting jumped in an effort to get Baker and the rest of his friends to give him a ride from the bonfire. Kosky stated he already had both guns tucked in his waistband when he met Baker outside the house. 

Kosky stated when he walked up the stairs, Destiny Olinger opened the door and then he just “snapped.” He testified that he shot Destiny first and then the other victims, leaving Sophia Bullard for last. He stated when he looked behind him, he saw fear in Baker’s eyes. He then confirmed Baker was only inside the house with him after the shooting. Kosky then stated the two of them walked to a back bedroom and then exited the home. 

Kosky stated his sister, Jude Walton, lied when she told the police she saw him and Baker enter the home together because she was outside when the shooting happened. Kosky stated on the ride away from the scene, he tried to hand Baker a firearm but he refused to take it. Kosky then testified that he threw one firearm out of the window of the Jeep and tossed the other one near the Snapping Shoals Creek after exiting the vehicle. 

During testimony, Kosky stated that he tried to write the judge, district attorney’s office and multiple news outlets to advocate for Baker. He also stated during cross-examination that he did communicate with Baker’s supporters ahead of his trial appearance. However, he added that he was the one who sought the supporters out. 

In regards to the sketchy text messages, Kosky stated Baker had no knowledge of what he was planning but felt Baker could help him flee the bonfire with the firearms he stole. Kosky never specified the meaning behind saying Baker was the “only one on his level.” Kosky only stated he told the witnesses in the Jeep “anything and everything” to get a ride away from the bonfire. 

In the midst of cross-examination, Kosky often trailed off into a spout against the prosecutors when they asked him about his statements to the police described above. 

“Isn’t it the truth that you shot three of the victims but Matthew Baker shot one of the victims in the head?” ADA Sybil Price asked Kosky. 

“Not true, what makes you say that?” Kosky responded and repeatedly asked while refusing to answer any more questions. 

“You’re trying to trick me into saying something you want me to say… I don’t remember this,” Kosky said, followed by a request to view his statement. He also demanded the prosecutors to display it on the screen as they did the other materials. The prosecutors never acknowledged his request. 

“I’m done talking to you,” Kosky stated at one point. “This lady’s lying… I don’t remember saying any of that.” 

Following this, Kosky turned to Judge McGarity and asked to return to his holding cell, mumbling about Henry County being crooked. After a 15-minute break, Kosky was still defiant in his cross-examination with the prosecutors. 

“Can we talk about why you’re making things up? You’re a public official making things up. You're supposed to be the good guy. I know what I am, but she’s supposed to be the good guy,” Kosky said, pointing at Price from over the witness stand.

“I don’t have to be here, I don’t have any loyalty to Baker. This man is innocent, he didn’t have any blood, no gun residue -” Kosky said, before Price interjected and asked if he had any training in testing Gunshot Residue (GSR). 

“No, have you?” Kosky responded.

Kosky then directly addressed the jurors, who often refused to make eye-contact with him during testimony, and told them to “do the right thing” because Baker is innocent. Kosky’s last statement was confirming that he forever maintained he was the only shooter. 

Intense Closing Arguments

The defense led closing arguments by focusing mainly on the jury’s instructions for deliberation. They also claimed the state failed to provide physical evidence proving Baker is guilty and also failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baker is guilty. Baker’s decision not to testify on his own behalf was also addressed as Capital Defender Shayla Galloway stated Baker is not entitled to “help the state convict him.” Galloway charged the jury to focus on the facts of the case pointing to Kosky being the sole shooter. 

In response, the state’s rather lengthy closing argument began with ADA Deborah Venuto walking over to Baker, pointing her finger in his face and calling him a murderer. In Venuto’s argument, she claimed Baker was a willing participant in the murders with Kosky. She claimed Baker’s demeanor of shock and fear following the murders was because “he just killed four people” and not because he was scared for his life. Venuto alleged Baker wielded the .38 caliber revolver to kill Destiny Olinger and Matthew Hicks. She also accused Baker of holding three of the victims at gunpoint to keep them from fleeing. However, she also said it was not up to the jury to prove who shot who with what gun but to find Baker guilty because he was charged as a party to a crime. 

There has been stipulation as to whether Baker is still considered a party to crime, given Kosky’s name is not on his indictment and his charges read as if he stole the guns and murdered the four victims himself. Georgia law states that any accessor is to be charged the same as the other party. Baker’s charges were double that of what Kosky pleaded guilty to.  

It could be for that reason that later in her argument, Venuto told the jury they have “options” as to what to charge Baker with among the stacked felony murder charges - whether they find him guilty of all or just one. It was made clear during jury selection the state only needed one murder conviction out of the several to qualify Baker for the death penalty. Venuto also told the jury the testimony of a single witness was enough to establish a fact despite her slamming most of the state’s witnesses as liars. 

Toward the end of her closing, she claimed Baker was “a guy who knew how to cover his butt” alleging he deliberately changed his clothes and washed himself of gun residue to not get caught by the police. In conclusion, she walked up to Baker a second time to point in his face and call him a murderer. 

After she walked away, Baker held a straight face while tears streamed down from his eyes. 

A Victorious Verdict: Matthew Baker Jr. Is Free

After three years of Honeysuckle’s investigation, two weeks of intense trial proceedings and two days of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict May 20, 2024 around 11 a.m. after every one of the 30 counts on the indictment, the foreman stated the jury found Matthew Baker not guilty. 

The room was filled with soft sniffles and heavy sighs on either side. Baker appeared to be in a state of shock at the verdict. The state asked to hold the jury, leading Judge McGarity to ask each of the jurors if their vote was consistent with the verdict. Each juror, including the alternates, said yes - making a unanimous vote to acquit.

Baker was processed through the Henry County Detention Center on a 10 percent bail bond due to another pending theft by taking charge he received while he waited for the murder trial. 

For the first time in seven and a half years, he was able to hug his mother and see something other than the cement walls inside the jail. Family members tell Honeysuckle his first meal was a Powerade, a bag of Skittles and two servings of hot wings. 

In his first interview with Honeysuckle, Baker had stated if he had to die for what was right - maintaining his innocence - that he would fight until the end. 

He tells us he was dancing around his holding area just seconds before his attorneys came in and told him to come back into the court because the verdict came in. He said they advised him “not to flip out” as if they were anticipating a conviction. However, Baker reminded himself “all glory belongs to God” and confidently marched into the courtroom. 

Nearly three years later, we asked Baker how it felt to finally be a free man. 

“It feels so good to be home! God is amazing. I can’t wait to see what He has in store for me. I’m going to make everyone proud,” he said. 


Written By:

Kalyn Womack is a journalist and visual artist who currently works as a Staff Writer for The Root. Through her writing, she aims to challenge injustices and spotlight hidden figures of shadowed communities. Her work has also been published in Honeysuckle Magazine, Yahoo! News, NewsBreak, CityWatch LA, Jacksonville Free Press, and The Westside Gazette, among other outlets. She is a graduate of George Washington University.

@kt.acrylic (IG)


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Featured image: Matthew Baker Jr. celebrates with Damita Bishop of FAIR after being freed (C) Damita Bishop / FAIR