UPDATE: Man whose body was found in burned car in Paulding was suspect in 2017 murder

Akeyla Xemaja “KeKe” Philpot (left) has been charged with the murder of Austin James Nicholson.

Akeyla Xemaja “KeKe” Philpot (left) has been charged with the murder of Austin James Nicholson.

A man found dead inside a burned car last month in Paulding County was a suspect in a 2017 murder, the sheriff’s office said Monday afternoon. But it is not yet known whether the two cases are related.

Austin James Nicholson, 24, was found dead Aug. 26, according to Sgt. Ashley Henson. But his body was so badly burned that investigators could not easily determine the identity. Through an autopsy and forensic investigation, the GBI identified the body as Nicholson, Henson said.

The case started with a car fire on Vinson Mountain Crossing near Rockmart.

“Through the course of the investigation it was determined that a body was located inside the vehicle and the decedent had been murdered,” Henson said in an emailed statement.

One suspect has been charged with Nicholson’s death, and investigators said additional arrests are expected.

Akeyla Xemaja “KeKe” Philpot, 23, was arrested Thursday and charged with murder, arson, influencing witnesses and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, the sheriff’s office said. Philpot was being held without bond late Monday at the Paulding jail.

A motive for Nicholson’s death has not been released. But at the time, he was out of jail on bond following an arrest for his alleged involvement in a 2017 killing.


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In January of that year, Nicholson was one of three suspects accused of shooting a motorcyclist due to an ongoing property dispute, AJC.com previously reported. Chadwick Morgan was riding a motorcycle when he was shot and left in a ditch near 1680 Holly Springs Road near Rockmart.

Morgan, who lived in Dallas, was the father of two sons, according to his online obituary. His body was found about four miles from where the car fire took place.

All three suspects in Morgan’s death — Nicholson, Carlos Fredrico Hightower and Magan Darleen Carroll — were granted a $27,700 bond each for their murder charges, Henson said. Nicholson and Carroll both posted bond Feb. 11, 2017, three weeks after their arrests.

But Hightower’s arrest violated terms of his parole, and he was returned to state prison, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. In 2012, Hightower was convicted of statutory rape in Paulding, records showed. He was released from prison in April, but re-arrested for a probation violation Aug. 26. Hightower remained in the Paulding jail Tuesday, booking records showed.

The burned-out car was found at the entrance of a vacant property along Vinson Mountain Road in Rockmart.