Jacob Kosky was sentenced Friday in Henry County Superior Court. Several members of the victims’ families spoke before a judge sentenced Kosky to four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

Man pleads guilty, gets life in prison in Henry bonfire quadruple shooting

A Henry County man pleaded guilty but mentally ill Friday to shooting four people at close range after a 2016 bonfire at a home near Jackson, choosing life in prison over the possibility of a death sentence.

Jacob Cole Kosky, 25, was facing the death penalty if convicted of murder in the deaths of 18-year-old Matthew Hicks of McDonough, 29-year-old Keith Gibson of Covington, 20-year-old Sophia Bullard of Thomaston and 20-year-old Destiny Olinger of Jackson. All four were found shot either in the head or in the back inside a home on Moccasin Gap Road the morning of Oct. 27, 2016. 

Kosky received four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus five years. It was the maximum possible sentence for his crimes. 

He pleaded guilty to four counts of malice murder and eight counts of felony murder, in addition to multiple counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and theft by taking.

He waived his right to appeal.

According to prosecutors, Kosky attended the bonfire the night before the quadruple homicide. He allegedly asked a co-defendant, 22-year-old Matthew Baker of McDonough, for help to attack everyone inside the home. 

The two guns used in the shootings were taken from the residence and belonged to Olinger’s grandfather.

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Makenzie Jude Walton, Kosky’s sister, ran and hid in a shed on the property when she heard a voice she believed was her brother’s telling everyone to “get on the ground.” She called 911, but three of the victims were dead before officers arrived. Olinger later died at Grady Memorial Hospital

A third, unidentified man survived by hiding under a bed in a back bedroom.

Kosky called 911 from a Henry County sub shop the next day to turn himself in. By the end of the day, Henry County police had arrested Baker and three others with him the night of the shooting — Jacob Williams, Kayla Head and Brooke Knight. Williams, Head and Knight were charged with obstruction, and their charges are still pending.

Walton, Williams, Head and Knight were all cooperating with prosecutors, court records show. Walton was expected to testify at her brother’s trial as a condition of her own guilty plea to an unrelated robbery and shooting. 

While the court acknowledged Kosky’s long history of mental health, Henry County District Attorney Darius Pattillo said the plea did not absolve him of responsibility. He still does not know what provoked Kosky to violence that night.

Henry County District Attorney Darius Pattillo speaks with the media after Jacob Kosky pleaded guilty in a 2016 quadruple homicide Friday. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

No one argued with Kosky before he opened fire, witnesses told prosecutors. He was not close with any of the victims.

“There is no explanation, no justification for it,” Pattillo said. “All we can tell you is he entered that location and murdered four individuals who had done nothing to him. They were completely innocent.”

He called the slayings senseless.

Kosky’s public defender, Brad Gardner, said medical records include visits with a string of doctors and several hospital stays, some voluntary and some not, dating to the age of 3. 

In 2014, Kosky completed a mental health program through Henry County Resource Court. 

Twelve days before the murders, Kosky was discharged from Crescent Pines Hospital, a mental health facility in Stockbridge. Gardner said he does not know who signed off on Kosky’s release, but he was obviously unstable. At one point, he told a doctor that he was hearing voices telling him to do things.

“We believe at that point there was a gap in the system,” he said. 

Gardner said that in the two-and-a-half years the case has languished in court, Kosky’s mental health was evaluated by the state twice. He’s now on medication to address his symptoms. 

Kosky did not address the court Friday, but Gardner said he wanted to relate that he was “sorry about what happened.”

Several members of the victims’ families spoke prior to sentencing, including Hicks’ parents. They hit the highlights of Matthew’s life and lamented the milestones he would never reach. High school graduation. A wedding. Becoming a father.

Mark (left) and Lori Hicks, parents of Matthew Hicks, walk back to their seat after speaking Friday during Jacob Kosky's plea and sentencing hearing. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

“These people stole from us the joy of watching our son become a man,” Lori Hicks said, wiping away tears. 

His father, Mark Hicks, told Kosky that he did not forgive him, and he doubted he ever could. 

“Due to the emptiness now in my heart ... it is just not in me,” he said. 

Baker’s charges are similar to Kosky’s and are pending, though it could take years before he makes it to trial. The death penalty is still on the table, Pattillo said.  

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