Attorneys warned him against representing Matthew Queen.
Speculation hounded Queen regarding his involvement in the murder and disappearance of Bakersfield 3 members. But defense lawyer Timothy Hennessy said he disregarded the rumors and chose to stand by his client.
“My job was to get his side out there and to battle what the (Kern County District Attorney’s Office) was suggesting he was,” Hennessy said.
Queen was sentenced to 30 years to life plus 56 years for second-degree murder in the April 2018 death of Micah Holsonbake, 35, a member of the Bakersfield 3, which marked the conclusion of Bakersfield’s most high-profile trial of the year.
Holsonbake, Baylee Despot and James Kulstad are members of the Bakersfield 3. The trio’s mothers grouped them together to help them get answers about their deaths or disappearance. Despot, who was charged in Holsonbake’s death and was Queen’s ex-girlfriend, has been missing since April 2018. Kulstad died in an unrelated shooting around the same time.
Queen was charged with 34 felony counts, including first-degree murder, torture and kidnapping in Holsonbake’s death. He was acquitted of these charges. Queen also faced eight charges related to assault incidents and 20 charges related to possessing and manufacturing firearms. Jurors returned with a split verdict regarding the assault incidents, but largely convicted him of weapons charges.
Hennessy has never spoken out about his client’s case, which was the biggest and most complex case he said he has ever done. The Californian interviewed him to understand how the defense formulated its side of the story.
The Kern County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Kern County Indigent Defense Program first assigned Queen’s case to Hennessy around 2019 when his client was charged with possessing guns, Hennessy said. The attorney had left the Kern County Public Defender’s Office and recently started his own practice.
Other attorneys hesitated to take the case after local news frequently covered stories of Bakersfield 3 members, and the trio’s mothers bombarded them after Queen’s court dates, Hennessy added. Rumors circulated about Queen’s involvement in Holsonbake’s murder and Despot’s disappearance, the defense attorney noted.
“He became the boogeyman in the media,” Hennessy said.
But Hennessy noted he never watched news coverage of the Bakersfield 3. He said he believed Queen’s story, which deviated from prosecutors’ version, and that slowly allowed him to gain Queen’s trust.
During an exclusive jailhouse interview with The Californian, Queen said he always liked Hennessy, and thought he was a good person. They both agreed the truth needed to be told, Queen added.
“He saw I was a person and not just another criminal,” Queen said from inside the Lerdo Justice Facility on Wednesday.
Queen’s connection to Holsonbake’s death was confirmed in May 2020 after the District Attorney’s Office announced murder charges against Queen. Hennessy said he did not expect these charges.
“I never thought I would be doing a Micah Holsonbake murder trial,” Hennessy noted. “I thought this would be about Baylee (Despot) because that’s all anyone wants to talk about.”
Years of speculation preceded the murder trial’s first day in April. Hennessy watched as reporters and the victim’s family members piled into court and he felt the gravity of standing next to Queen. The defense attorney said he was the only one, outside of Queen, who knew the “truth.”
“It’s pretty intense,” Hennessy said of the trial’s first day. “It takes a lot to remind yourself of why you are there.”
Pressure and tension melted away for Hennessy once prosecutor Eric Smith began questioning the first witness, Megan Farmer, a former friend of Despot. Queen was charged with two counts of threatening with intent to terrorize and one count of assault with a semi-automatic firearm in connection to Farmer. He was found guilty of two counts out of the three charges.
But the “truth,” according to Hennessy and Queen, came after Hennessy called his client to testify. Queen was the only witness called by the defense during the trial.
On the stand, Queen testified that Holsonbake died in Queen’s garage. Holsonbake had pointed a gun at Queen and a scuffle started. Despot dropped a 40-pound dumbbell on Holsonbake’s head and killed him, Queen said. The pair then chopped up Holsonbake’s body and scattered his remains around Kern County.
Holsonbake’s complete body has not been found. His arm washed up from the Kern River in August 2018 and his skull was recovered from Lake Ming in August 2021.
Up until Queen testified, audience members and the public had only heard prosecutors say Holsonbake died after he was kidnapped, tortured and killed by Queen and Despot in a friend’s garage.
Jurors ultimately acquitted Queen of first-degree murder, torture and kidnapping — a result that prompted a gasp from an audience member when the verdict was read.
Relief flooded Hennessy upon hearing the exoneration of first-degree murder and torture, he said. However, Queen was found guilty of second-degree murder.
“I’m not crazy,” Hennessy said of being the only one who knows Queen’s story. “I’m not alone.”
Queen told The Californian he was not completely happy with the trial’s outcome. He said he thought evidence should have been attacked and other witnesses should have testified. When pressed for the names of those witnesses, Queen said he was “not at liberty to say.”
Hennessy maintains this case was not a victory — it only meant he will fight for his client. He didn’t feel like a hero at the trial’s conclusion and only felt relief.
A man was murdered and his body was indelicately handled, Hennessy said. He watched as mothers of the Bakersfield 3 cried in court during the trial.
“There is no moment of celebration,” Hennessy said.
Ishani Desai can be reached at 661-395-7417. Follow her on Twitter: @_ishanidesai.