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.
Atlanta Resident Maurice Jimmerson Is Released After Waiting 10 Years For Trial. Could Matthew Baker Be Next?
A mistrial has been declared for Maurice Jimmerson, an Atlanta man who’s waited what attorneys say is the longest time in Georgia’s history before trial. According to Atlanta News First, Jimmerson spent 10 years in Dougherty County jail until his trial Monday, July 24.
A hung jury declared it was unable to reach a verdict on whether Jimmerson was guilty or not in a 2013 gang-related shooting. An eyewitness, who claimed they saw Jimmerson pull the trigger, recanted their statement after admitting they lied. Jimmerson’s attorney said that admission, along with no cell phone location, DNA or fingerprint evidence, should be the tell-all sign that his client was innocent.
Jimmerson wasn’t the only Georgia resident waiting an unreasonably long time for trial. Matthew Baker Jr., 25, has been waiting for trial for nearly seven years in a 2016 quadruple murder. As Doughterty County District Attorney Gregory Edwards argued in Jimmerson’s case, the pandemic put a two-year stall on most court procedures across Georgia.
However, prolonged detentions like these bring into question whether the court violated these defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial. Additionally, the lack of evidence in Jimmerson’s case casts doubt that prosecutors could prove beyond reasonable doubt that he committed a crime anyway.
Similarly, Baker’s case lacks key evidence in proving he is deserving of the punishment he’s facing: the death penalty.
What Happened In The Henry County "Bonfire Killings" Case?
On October 27, 2016, Baker was slammed with a 30-count indictment in the quadruple murder of Destiny Olinger, Keith Gibson, Matthew Hicks and Sophia Bullard at a party in McDonough, Georgia. Baker told the police that another party guest, Jacob Kosky, asked Baker’s friends, Kayla Head, Brooke Knight and Jacob T. Williams, for a ride home hours after the group left the event. Kosky allegedly asked for Baker to come with them. Upon arrival, Baker was sent to the house to go fetch Kosky, but told detectives he walked up on him opening fire inside the house with two firearms. Kosky’s sister, Makenzie Jude Walton, called 911 from behind the house but said she didn’t see who the shooter was.
Kosky pleaded guilty to the murders and to stealing the firearms; he was sentenced in 2019. Baker’s friends were charged with obstruction of justice. Despite Kosky’s claims that Baker is innocent, Henry County has been holding Baker in jail for the past six years.
Newly Uncovered Evidence Shows Nothing Tying Matthew Baker To The Crimes He's Incarcerated For
The prosecution previously admitted in a 2021 hearing that nothing from the search warrants, DNA tests and forensics tests from the scene of the crime incriminated Baker. They’ve relied heavily on the claim that Baker walked inside the house with Kosky when the shooting started. However, Kosky told Honeysuckle that “he didn’t have much of a choice.” Baker previously told investigators that he was threatened by Kosky at gunpoint while at the scene of the crime.
Kosky also said he only claimed that Baker “held a gun but didn’t shoot anyone” because he thought it would get him in less trouble. But he also said his statement wasn’t credible because “his mind wasn’t all there” when he spoke to the police. He still asserts that Baker had nothing to do with the crime.
“They don’t have a case, there’s no way a jury would even consider him guilty,” he said. “At the end of the day, they can say whatever but you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt Matthew was involved in my case and he wasn’t.”
Baker’s mother, Angelia Lanier, told Honeysuckle she’s met with a private investigator on the case to review the evidence. She confirmed the two firearms were recovered and that none of the tests on the firearms made a match to Baker. Honeysuckle has not reviewed these documents, but sent a request to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to obtain them.
“I asked, ‘Did y’all find the two guns?’ He said yes,” Lanier commented. Lanier also confirmed that she reviewed the statements of every person who was interviewed besides the 911 caller. “Nobody mentioned anything about Matthew out of the [witness] statements I read. Never did I hear [Kosky] say to Detective [David] LeCroy in his interrogation that Matthew was his accomplice,” she said.
Additionally, Lanier said in Kosky’s interview with detectives, he specified that one of the victims showed him the firearms inside the house prior to the shooting. According to the Henry Herald, one of the state’s witnesses who claimed they saw Baker inside the house, died in a single car wreck in March. It’s unclear if his testimonies are still eligible for trial, but it’s also unclear what else the state has to argue that Baker is guilty.
Prosecution Comes Up Empty: No Explanation For Matthew Baker's Additional Charges
In a status hearing April 18, Baker’s attorneys stated on record they believe the only reason Baker was re-indicted in June 2021 was because he refused to take a plea at the time the state thought it was “appropriate to do so.”
“In our opinion, that rose to the level of retaliation and, to be frank, a level of pressure and duress for Mr. Baker trying to make a decision as it relates to the re-indictment,” said Georgia Capital Defender Shayla Galloway. “I’m not speculating about anything… that stance maintains today because it absolutely, in my opinion, appears to be retaliation.”
In response, Henry County Assistant District Attorney Deborah Venuto attested that the court re-indicting had “nothing to do with Matthew not pleading guilty,” yet agreed with Senior Judge Arch McGarity that the only way for them to reindict was in response to Baker objecting to the plea. The current plea bargain as it stands is life without parole. Venuto also said their reason for re-indicting is “none of the defense’s business,” and asserted that the “state has its reasons.”
“The state looked at the evidence, looked at the case, went through and decided there were additional charges that we missed the first go round that we should have probably indicted the first go round,” said Venuto.
The prosecution didn't specify what evidence led to the additional charges. The new counts on Baker’s new indictment include criminal attempt to commit armed robbery and additional felony murder counts for criminal attempt to commit armed robbery and burglary in the first degree. Because of the severity of the charges, Baker’s attorneys have been filing motions to turn this death penalty trial into a plain murder trial.
Judge Denies Removal of Death Penalty In Matthew Baker's Case
In Baker’s latest pre-trial hearing June 22, the judge denied the motion in “extending roper,” in reference to the 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Roper v Simmons. In that case, the Court ruled, based on the testimony of a brain development expert, that executing anyone who was under the age of 21 at the time of the alleged crime is unconstitutional.
For Baker’s case, the defense brought forth Dr. Jennifer Woolard, a Georgetown psychology professor, to present on the brain development of late adolescents between ages 18 and 24. The defense argued that Baker, being 19 years old at the time of the crime, implied he had another decade before his brain matured to regulate emotions, manage impulses and foresee the consequences of his actions. Therefore, he would be undeserving of the harshest penalty.
However, Baker’s attorney Christian Lamar made a statement to the court nearly implying his client was deserving of some punishment.
“When you’re 19 and 20, you go, ‘Ah! I know everything,’” said Lamar. “Then you get 40 and 50, you realize how wrong you were when you were 19. They made bad decisions that impacted themselves… their families… and their community. And sometimes, as in this case, they make horrible and irreparable mistakes that cause tragedies like why we’re here today. In terms of asking the court to strike the death penalty, in this case, we’re not asking that late adolescent kids like Mr. Baker not be held accountable. But what we are asking is that the punishment be sensible, humane and just….”
The prosecution argued that Baker didn’t fall into the category of late adolescents who lack the brain maturity to understand the consequences of their actions, adding that some “19-year-olds don’t wake up and decide they want to execute four people.”
Baker’s mother was not impressed by the defense’s stance and said she felt they could’ve done more to assert their client’s innocence.
“To me, [the defense] didn't make a good argument on what kind of thought process Matthew would be in that night when all this stuff happened,” Lanier said. “I felt like the judge’s decision to not remove the death penalty was already there.”
Following that was a brief and quite bizarre discourse regarding the racial biases implicated in death penalty cases which led the (white) prosecutor to point out the races of herself, her Black colleague and the Black district attorney in an attempt to squash the racism allegations. At some point, the (very white) judge said that “We’re all people of color.”
During the remainder of the hearing, the prosecution and judge noted that Baker has no prior criminal convictions. The prosecution also said they did not have any DNA test, fingerprints to bring to the trial at the moment. Honeysuckle reached out to Baker’s attorneys for comment.
What's Next For Matthew Baker?
Baker says he’s been taking a greater initiative in his defense instead of sitting back and letting his defense speak for him. These actions include filing additional motions in hopes to squash the indictment before trial and address numerous alleged Sixth and Fifth Amendment violations, including his right to a speedy trial.
“I’m a little stressed, but at the end of the day I’m going to go with what I feel is right,” Baker said. “If God tells me to do something different, then that’s what I'll do. No matter what the law says, what anybody says… God is going to have the final say.”
His trial date is currently set for October 2. The state has subpoenaed up to 67 witnesses, but it is unclear if Baker’s defense has subpoenaed any witnesses to testify for him. As he waits for the big day, he told Honeysuckle he hosts Bible study weekly with his cellmates, has completed his GED and now works as a teacher aide, helping educate other inmates.
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
A.E.M. To H.E.L.P. LLC
Wedlock: Chronicles of a Prison Wife
All Things Relevant Media
Stay tuned for further updates on Matthew Baker’s case and sign his petition at Change.org. To support a fair trial and investigation for Matthew Baker, you can send letters or make phone calls to the Henry County Justice Department:
Georgia Capital Defense Council Office
Shayla Galloway firstname.lastname@example.org
Christian Lamar email@example.com
Elisa Burnum firstname.lastname@example.org
270 Washington Street, Ste, 5-191 Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone: +1 800-436-7442
Henry County Superior Court
Mailing: 1 Courthouse SQ, McDonough, GA 30253
Clerk of Superior Court - Sabriya Hill
1 Courthouse SQ, McDonough, GA 30253
District Attorney Darius Pattillo
1 Courthouse Square 2nd Floor, West Tower McDonough, GA 30253
Phone: (770) 288-6400
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Featured image: Matthew Baker in 2016, courtesy of Angie Lanier