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 to see why advocates are fighting to prove Baker's innocence and that racial bias has played a major role in his imprisonment.

Note: This piece is being updated with running news from the trial! Please keep checking back here for the latest developments from the case.

What's Happening In Matthew Baker Jr.'s Trial?

Trial Day 1

After seven and a half years of waiting, Matthew Baker Jr. is finally at trial for what prosecutors allege was the merciless execution of four young Georgia residents. 

In opening arguments, Henry County Assistant District Attorney Sybil Price told jurors, “The evidence will show Baker conspired with convicted shooter Jacob Kosky to murder Destiny Olinger, Keith Gibson, Sophia Bullard and Matthew Hicks in the wee hours of October 27, 2016.” 

Baker’s attorney, Capital Defender Christian Lamar, opened by silently holding up a “Matthew Baker is Innocent” poster which he followed by arguing the evidence will show that Baker did not kill anyone. However, he did say Baker made a bad decision obeying the orders of Kosky to step inside the home where the shooting occurred. 

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

The Witnesses

Testimony Of Makenzie Jude Walton

The state called Makenzie Jude Walton, Kosky’s sister and also the one who called 911 to report the shooting. Walton testified that at that time, she wanted to get her brother out of the house after he’d been released from jail on charges related to stealing his stepdad's guns prior to the incident. 

She said in the evening of October 26, 2016 at the bonfire party on Moccasin Gap Road, she got into an argument with Kosky where he threatened to “show her how real he was” and began a countdown. Walton stated that during the argument, Kosky began foaming at the mouth in anger. She then testified on her brother’s mental illness, recalling he had the mind of a child at times and often couldn’t distinguish reality from imagination. Kosky previously told Honeysuckle he was diagnosed with schizo-effective disorder, PTSD and antisocial personality disorder. 

At some point during the questioning, the visibly frustrated Walton blurted out, “I’m confused, is this a trial for Jacob or for Matthew? I'm not here to slander my brother. I’m here to make sure the victim’s families have justice.”

Walton then said she saw Baker and his three friends at the party for a few minutes before Destiny Olinger asked her to tell them to leave. She claimed that before the group departed, Kosky and Baker had a sidebar conversation.

Testimony Of Emily Wickwire

Emily Wickwire, a bonfire party guest who left just moments before the shooting, testified she left the party with three of the victims for an hour and a half to buy weed. Kosky and his sister remained at the home, as well as Keith Gibson and Dalton Wyatt, Gibson’s brother-in-law. 

Walton's Testimony Conflicts With Her 911 Call

Walton said moments before the shooting, she was standing on the back porch with Matthew Hicks and Sophia Bullard smoking a cigarette when she noticed Kosky standing in the shed with a silhouette of a person who she later identified as Baker. She claimed she saw another mysterious silhouette standing by the pool. When she and the other two walked back inside, she said that’s when Kosky and Baker came through the door and started shooting. Walton said she then ran from the kitchen through the back porch and called 911. 

The recording of the 911 call was played for the court. She testified she heard a shot while on the phone; however, the recording of the call did not pick up the sound of gunfire. In the call, Walton said she couldn’t see the shooter because she was standing on the back porch when the shooting occurred. This differed from her testimony, where she said she was in the house and saw her brother storm in.

Wickwire's Call With Walton

Wickwire said she received a call from Walton, who told her she just got off the phone with the police reporting what she believed was a drive-by. Wickwire stated that after hearing of the shooting, she tried to text Hicks at 2:16 a.m. and never received a response. 

Wickwire didn’t testify that Walton mentioned her brother. Though she did say the last time she saw Kosky that night was in the kitchen, ducking back shots so fast he “didn’t have time to speak in between.”

What Does Walton Remember About The "Bonfire Killings" Case?

She was also asked by prosecutors to explain why she didn’t want to give her name to the 911 dispatcher when they asked for it. She said she wasn’t trying to hide her identity, but she was worried about her pending charges at the time. 

Court documents obtained by Honeysuckle reveal Walton was facing multiple aggravated assault and gang charges at the time of the incident, and was sentenced to two years to serve and eight years probation. Part of her negotiation was to testify truthfully in the Baker-Kosky case. Her probation was terminated by Henry County District Attorney Darius Pattillo by way of petition under the First Offenders Act, according to court records. 

During cross-examination, the defense asked Walton if she recalled a series of statements she made including a description of two white male suspects to the dispatcher, calling herself “a coward for running” and saying she initially didn’t want to call the police. To nearly each of them, she answered that she did not recall. She said she didn’t remember receiving a message from Kosky immediately after the shooting. However, when the prosecutor began reading a transcript of the text, Walton confirmed the message said, “I love you that’s why I let you live.” Following this, she asked “Why is he even relevant?” 

Walton attributed the patches in her story to memory loss from trauma. However, she also said she was able to understand what happened better now, having seven years to deliberate on the incident. 

Testimony Of Jordan Kosky

Jordan, Kosky’s older brother, testified that he got a call from his brother that night asking for a ride home. He said while he was preparing to leave the bar to get him, Newton County police contacted him saying they found Kosky, who appeared mentally disturbed. Jordan testified that Kosky gave him “vague” information about what happened and when he tried to call his sister, Walton, for more information, she was just hysterical. 

Jordan testified that he took Kosky to T-Mobile with him the following morning, but encouraged him to turn himself in. Moments after going into the store, Jordan said he saw his brother surrounded by police cars outside. A Henry County PD crime technician testified they searched Jordan’s home and car for evidence, retrieving a phone, iPod, a few bloody rags and a pair of white shorts with blood. 

Those arrested in the "Bonfire Killings" case. Left to right: Kayla Head, Jacob Williams, Brooke Knight, Jacob Kosky, and Matthew Baker. Screengrab from FOX5 Atlanta News.

The Witnesses from the White Jeep: Testimony Of Kayla Head, Brooke Knight And Jacob "Phil" Williams

Baker’s friends, Kayla Head, Brooke Knight and Jacob Williams or “Phil” (a nickname that became an identifying factor throughout trial to avoid mixing up the two Jacob’s), also took the stand. The three testified that they began hanging out with each other and Baker just “recently” ahead of the shooting. They also said they were familiar with Kosky through his sister or another mutual friend named Austin Trent. 

Brooke said she accepted the invite to the bonfire party from Walton, but stated they were there only for about five minutes. After leaving, Brooke said she was supposed to get a ride home until the four ended up at Baker’s house for a few hours. 

Kayla testified that she and Phil left at one point to get McDonald’s and go to the gas station. However, Brooke denied that anyone left Baker’s house until they received the call from Kosky asking for a ride home. 

They all pointed fingers at each other as to who accepted the call. Brooke claimed she ignored the calls and Kayla eventually coerced her into taking to the ride, while Kayla alleged it was Brooke who convinced her to go get Kosky. Meanwhile, Phil testified Baker and Kayla were the ones who convinced him to take the ride. 

When all four returned to Moccasin Gap, Brooke testified that Kosky ordered them to park at the end of the driveway on the road. After waiting 10-15 minutes, she said Baker was sent up to the home to get Kosky. Phil said after waiting, he grew frustrated because he wanted to go home and decided to drive himself back to his house and let the girls drive back. However, after getting a few feet down the road, Phil said he received a text from Kosky telling them to come get him. Phil testified that Kayla hopped back in the driver seat and took them back to Moccasin Gap. 

According to Phil, when they arrived, he saw Kosky and Baker running as fast as they could back to the car. All three testified that Baker looked terrified when he returned to the vehicle, while Kosky appeared rather calm. Kayla said Baker looked worried and “so pale you could see right through him.” Phil recalled Baker hyperventilating and “freaking out.” Brooke said while the group asked Kosky questions, Baker gave her a look like he was trying to say, “Stop asking questions if you know what’s good for you.” 

All three of Baker’s friends recalled asking the two what happened. In response, Kosky said he “dome-checked” or “domed” the people at the party. Kayla testified that when she asked for clarification, Kosky pointed a finger gun to the back of her head. No one else gave that account.

Phil said Brooke looked like she was sick, peeled over in the backseat of the car after Kosky’s utterance. However, each of them testified they didn’t completely understand what Kosky meant. 

The car stopped at the Highway 81/Georgia 212 intersection when Kosky exited. The three said they returned to Baker’s home in shock. No one called the police. Phil said when they arrived back to Baker’s home, the only thing he could get him to say was “I f-cked up.” Phil said the group looked out Baker’s bedroom window and saw the police and ambulances pass the house, presumably headed toward the direction of the bonfire. 

Charges Against Kayla Head, Brooke Knight And Phil Williams

Baker’s three friends were arrested shortly after the incident and charged with obstruction of justice after lying to the police. Phil admitted he lied at first, telling police he had no idea what they were referring to in regard to the shooting until he ultimately gave his account. Phil’s case was dismissed after the statute of limitations ran out, he said. Brooke and Kayla lied, saying Baker and Phil stayed home while the girls drove to pick up Kosky. After being confronted about lying on Baker’s whereabouts, Kayla testified that she was under pressure because, “Someone in the group said we had to protect Matt.” 

In cross-examination, Kayla said she did not recall telling detectives “Baker was just a dumb kid trying to get some money out of it” and also didn’t recall saying she planned with the others to figure out “how no one would go down for it.” Brooke testified that she didn’t know the victims were shot before being met by police outside Baker’s home the following morning. However, when prosecutors asked if she remembered telling the police “it was a shame it happened” or asking them if it was a “mass homicide,” she said she did not. 

Prosecutors confirmed with both Kayla and Brooke that they were still facing the pending charge, but were granted immunity from any of their testimony being used against them. In Brooke’s testimony, she bit back, stating information about her plea deal. 

“I have a non-negotiable plea deal where you’re going to make me plead guilty, correct?” Brooke asked the prosecutor. Following this was a fiery back-and-forth between ADA Deborah Venuto and Brooke regarding clarification on one of her police statements where she implicated Baker. 

“When you came back into the room and Detective Melon said ‘It’s all bullshit’ and he confronted you about your bullshit, is that when you said Matthew Baker had been in the house with Jacob Kosky?” Venuto spat at Brooke. No one objected to Venuto’s use of expletives. 

Other Conflicting Accounts 

Testimony Of Dianne Wyatt

Dalton Wyatt’s grandmother, Dianne, took the stand again to testify on his behalf since he’d died in a fatal car wreck last March. Wyatt told detectives he was hiding in the back bedroom of the home when he saw two males walking up and down the hall. Ms. Wyatt testified that she’d been in conversation with the DA’s office for the past few years. However, she testified in a March motion hearing that she had only spoken to prosecutors recently before being called to appear. 

She gave a similar account as to what she previously claimed her grandson told her about the fatal bonfire - he went to the party with his brother-in-law, Keith Gibson, passed out in the back room from drinking too many beers and woke up to what he thought were fireworks but were really gunshots. However, the defense attorneys challenged her testimony that Dalton told her he saw two men enter the home both armed with guns, making “gun motions” with one another. Wyatt had previously testified her grandson said they used their hands to make gun motions toward one another and wasn’t sure both of the males were armed. 

She also testified that Dalton said he saw the guns but not the faces of the two males he saw enter the home. She repeatedly stated Dalton never said he saw Matthew Baker, even though she wasn’t specifically asked if he did see him. However, defense attorney Elise Burnum asked if she knew Dalton identified Baker in a lineup later when with the police to which Ms. Wyatt said no. Wyatt also refused to refer to her written statement when offered the document to refresh her memory. 

“I know what I said.” she answered repeatedly.

Testimony Of Henry County Police Officer Steve Frugoli

In other testimony, HCPD Officer Steve Frugoli testified that upon receiving the be-on-the-lookout for Kosky and the white Jeep he fled in, Baker’s name was brought up as a person of interest. He also claimed that someone at Baker’s home was of association to Kosky and the Jeep. However, in a pre-trial hearing in 2021, he asserted that he was not aware of Baker’s involvement or lack thereof in the incident and the only mission was to locate Kosky. Former officer Jason Bolton gave similar testimony, claiming he was looking for an associate of Kosky. However, in the same pre-trial hearing as Frugoli, he confirmed he was only instructed to track down Kosky. 

Trial Day 2

The State’s “Evidence” in Matthew Baker Jr.’s Trial

During Matthew Baker Jr.’s trial, several crime technicians and evidence analysts from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and Henry County Police Department were called by the state to testify on the evidence obtained from the crime scene in connection to the quadruple homicide on October 27, 2016. 

The courtroom was filled with tears and sniffles as the state displayed the photos taken from the crime scene showing Matthew Hicks, Sophia Bullard and Keith Gibson dead on the ground from gunshot wounds. Absent from the photos was Destiny Olinger, who survived the incident and was removed for medical attention. 

However, on the kitchen floor was a pool of blood where EMTs previously tried to save her life.

Testimony Of EMT Thomas Mahamfey

Former Henry County Fire Department EMT Thomas Mahamfey testified that when he arrived on the scene that evening, Destiny Olinger was still alive. He stated he then performed life saving measures with other paramedics, rolling her on her back, pumping her chest from vomit and blood and placing a tube in her chest to increase the flow of oxygen. She was then life-flighted to Grady Memorial Hospital where she died three days later.

Testimony Of Crime Scene Technician Teresa Brown 

Teresa Brown, a HCPD crime scene technician, testified that all of the victims except Destiny Olinger had to have been shot while positioned low to the ground because of the lack of blood spatter on the dining room chairs, table and the walls. Each of them were face down with their hands placed on either side of their head.

Testimony Of Crime Scene Technician Lori Jackson

Authorities said a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver as well as a .44 Bulldog Special revolver were used in the crime. Both firearms were found on either side of the bridge resting upon Snapping Shoals Creek on Highway 81, according to testimony. Lori Jackson, another crime scene tech, testified that she located the .38 revolver as well as a wallet which appeared to contain Kosky’s belongings, based on the photo displayed to the court. 

Crime Scene Latent Prints, Firearm Analysis, And Medical Examination

Jennifer Green, former crime scene-latent print unit employee with HCPD, testified that she was responsible for retrieving latent prints from the .38 and .44 caliber revolvers. Green testified that no latent prints were recovered from either firearm. 

Emily Bagwell, a firearm examiner from the GBI, testified that two shots were fired from the .38 caliber which a medical examiner later testified was used to shoot Matthew Hicks in close range to the back and Destiny Olinger on the left side of her head from a distance of over five feet or “indeterminate.” A total of five shots were shot from the .44, Bagwell said. The medical examiner further testified that the revolver was used to shoot Hicks in close range on the left side of the head, Keith Gibson in close range to the right side of his head and from an indeterminate range to the back of his right shoulder, Sophia Bullard in close range to the back of her head and Destiny Olinger when her head was first grazed by the bullet. 

The medical examiner was never asked to confirm the time of death for the three victims who were deceased on arrival.  

Testimony Of Crime Scene Technician Michelle Johnson

Michelle Johnson, another HCPD Crime scene tech, testified that upon searching Kosky’s home, she recovered a spare phone from his brother’s glovebox, a pair of bloody white shorts from inside the house as well as two bloody rags. When she searched Baker’s home as detectives actively searched throughout, she stated she didn’t take anything that would be processed as potential evidence.

“Everyone had GSR except for Matthew Baker Jr.?” Gunshot Powder Residue Controversy

Sarah Peppers, a GBI forensic analyst, testified on the results of the gunshot powder residue tests (or GSR) collected from everyone who rode in the Jeep as well as the two survivors of the shooting, Dalton Wyatt and the shooter’s sister, Jude Walton. 

She began her testimony explaining how when someone fires a gun, particles plume from the chamber and can get on the person firing the gun or any individual in the room or near the shooter. She then explained that gunshot residue can also transfer from surface to surface as well as become absent due to the washing of the hands or multiple surface transfers. 

Peppers testified that of the test results, Kosky and Wyatt had the most gun residue tested on them: three particles. Former HCPD officer Tyler Pilgrim said officers discovered Wyatt hiding in the back room after already clearing the house because his sister came looking for him. Pilgrim testified Wyatt was found wedged in between the mattress and box spring of the bed in the back room after police searched the home a second time. It’s unclear how he tested positive for that amount of GSR.  

As for Makenzie Jude Walton, Jacob ‘Phil’ Williams, Brooke Knight and Kayla Head, each of them tested for only one particle of gun residue. For Mr. Baker, Peppers testified that the test failed to read for any GSR particles. 

“So you’re testifying that everyone had GSR on them except Mr. Baker?” the prosecutor asked. Peppers replied affirmatively. 

“Would you expect a person present when two weapons are discharged seven times, would you expect them to have GSR on them?” Peppers reiterated in the affirmative. However, she said if they were tested for it 12 hours later, when Baker was tested by police, she wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t show.

The prosecutors then badgered Peppers with questions about how GSR can be lost or removed from either washing hands, showering or allowing an extensive amount of time to pass. Prosecutors honed in on photos of Baker taken on the night of the incident and the day following where he appears to change shirts. However, no one who returned to the home with Baker following the shooting ever testified that he washed his hands or took a shower. 

In fact, they weren’t even asked if he did. 

Also, Kosky and Phil appeared to have changed their clothes from the night before to the morning they were taken to the police station. They still tested for GSR.

Suspicious Text Messages Between Jacob Kosky And Witnesses In The Jeep

Among the three testimonies of Brooke Knight, Kayla Head and Jacob “Phil” Williams were discrepancies about how Baker communicated with Kosky. Baker didn’t have a phone at the time of the shooting though, each of his friends testified that he used their phones often.  It’s overall unclear who was communicating with whom when Kosky shared plans of stealing firearms from inside the home. Brooke and Phil both testified that Baker used their phone that night to talk to Kosky. Brooke said when Baker got out to the car to fetch Kosky from the bonfire, he took her phone and she used Phil’s phone in the meantime. Baker and his friends denied knowing about what Kosky was planning that night.

HCPD Sgt. Glenn Turner, who performed the cellphone extractions for everyone who rode in the Jeep, testified that many of the messages were deleted. Honeysuckle composed a timeline of the extracted messages, including those mentioned in testimonies of Emily Wickwire and Jacob Kosky.

Text Message Timeline: 

  • 11:50 p.m Kosky texts Brooke “ys straps I know where they at it’s like 7 of them - don’t say nun”
  • 12:06 a.m. Koksy texts Phil “I’mma get these guns no [matter] what” 
  • 12:12 a.m. 4 second phone call from Kosky to Brooke
  • 1:20 a.m. 26 second call between Kosky and Brooke
  • 1:23 a.m. 3-minute phone call between Kosky and Phil
  • 1:23 a.m. Kayla texts Brooke  “Y’all tryna hit a lick”
  • 1:27 a.m. 41-second phone call between Kosky and Brooke
  • 1:36 a.m. Kosky texts Phil “Igh real s— I need to talk to Matt. I feel like he the only one on my level like I can wait but these b— and n— ain’t on nun …  tell him call me ASAP” 
    • [Time N/A] “Ight bet” Brooke to Kosky 
  • 1:37 a.m. unknown texts Kosky “He’s with me now, see n— it shoulda been us 3”
  • [Time N/A] Kosky texts Phil “Lmk when you close I just need a little help that’s it” 
  • 1:46 a.m. Kosky to unknown “I really need Matt”
  • 1:48 a.m. 1-minute call between Brooke and Kosky
  • 1:51 Kayla calls Brooke 
  • 1:55 Brooke calls Kosky 
  • 2:02 a.m. Phil texts Kosky “They pulled out we dipped”
  • 2:03 a.m.  Phil texts unknown “run and hide don’t lose my fkn phone”
  • 2:05 a.m. Kosky texts Phil “We comin” following instructions on where to park.
    • [seconds later] Brooke texts Kosky on Phil’s phone “This Brooke n—… I know what to do… we gucci” 
  • 2:07 a.m. Walton calls Kosky (missed call)
  • 2:08 a.m. Matthew Hicks sends last message to Emily Wickwire
    • 2:11 Walton calls Kosky 
    • 2:12 Kosky calls Walton back
  • 2:11 a.m. Walton calls 911 [phone call lasts 10 minutes]
  • 2:16 a.m. Wickwire texts Matthew Hicks after receiving call from Walton that she reported a driveby to 911 
  • 3:30 a.m. Kosky texts Brooke “I talked to Jude [Walton], everything is straight tell Matt that’s it”
  • 3:55 a.m. unknown texts Brooke “Don’t answer, everything good, don’t text back, I’ll call you and Matt tomorrow” 
  • 9:59 a.m. Kosky texts Phil “everything good my way, I need to talk to Matt in person ASAP”

These messages became a staple for the state’s case against Baker, claiming he conspired throughout the night with Kosky plotting a robbery and murder. Baker maintains he knew nothing of what Kosky was going to do that night. Kosky testified later he never told anyone about his plan, but only involved Baker to ensure he had a way of escape. 

How Can I Support Justice For Matthew Baker?

To support justice for Matthew Baker, like and share the Justice for Matthew Baker Facebook Page and tune in to the following podcasts to learn more about his case.

Mystery Mom Dracc

"Why Isn't Anyone Talking About Matthew Baker?"

United Streets

"Let My People Go Show: Justice For Matthew Baker Jr."

A.E.M. To H.E.L.P. LLC

"Matthew Baker Jr. sits in Henry County Jail wrongly charged for a crime he didn't commit!"

Wedlock: Chronicles of a Prison Wife

"Interview with Matthew Baker Jr's mom Angie Lanier"

All Things Relevant Media

"UNJUST: Matthew Baker Jr. Trial"

Stay tuned for further updates on Matthew Baker’s trial and sign his petition at Change.org. To support a fair trial for Matthew Baker, you can send letters or make phone calls to the Henry County Justice Department:

Henry County Superior Court

Mailing: 1 Courthouse SQ, McDonough, GA 30253

Clerk of Superior Court - Sabriya Hill

1 Courthouse SQ, McDonough, GA 30253

Email: shill@co.henry.ga.us

District Attorney Darius Pattillo

1 Courthouse Square 2nd Floor, West Tower McDonough, GA 30253

Phone: (770) 288-6400

Email: da@co.henry.ga.us


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)


Find Out More On Social











Featured image: Matthew Baker Jr. in 2021, courtesy of Fighting Against Institutionalized Railroading (FAIR)