BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Matthew Queen considered himself a modern day “boogeyman,” using that term when he threatened others, and carrying out crimes including the torture and murder of a man he believed stole from him, an attorney said as Queen’s trial began Monday.
Prosecutor Eric Smith, during a roughly 40-minute opening statement, went over the 35 charges against Queen, who is accused of killing Micah Holsonbake, a member of the so-called “Bakersfield 3,” kidnapping and threatening other people in separate incidents, and fabricating and selling AR-15-style weapons.
Queen faces 50 years to life if convicted of all charges.
Defense lawyer Timothy Hennessy gave a brief opening statement asking the jury to keep an open mind. He said the story behind this case is not one of a “single evil man.”
“By the end of this you may not like Mr. Queen, you may even hate Mr. Queen, but you won’t believe he is responsible for Mr. Holsonbake’s death,” Hennessy said.
Smith spent much of his opening focusing on the gun-related charges against Queen. He said firearms are what initially brought Queen to the attention of law enforcement, and they are what led to Holsonbake and Baylee Despot, Queen’s ex-girlfriend, running in his circle.
Holsonbake, 38, and Queen, 45, built illegal rifles using parts bought online, Smith said. Despot helped sell the weapons.
The prosecutor displayed messages sent by Despot where she asked acquaintances if they knew people interested in purchasing assault weapons.
Guns brought Queen and Holsonbake together — and a gun may have severed their relationship.
Smith said Queen and Despot believed Holsonbake either stole a gun or replaced a weapon with one that had a faulty firing pin. The prosecutor said the two decided to question Holsonbake.
They took him in late March 2018 to a detached garage at the home of Matthew Tyler Vandecasteele, Smith said. There they zip-tied Holsonbake, tortured him and killed him, Smith said.
Vandecasteele, who took a plea deal last year, has agreed to testify. Smith said Vandecasteele told police about a reddish stain found on a shelf in the garage after Queen and Despot left.
That stain tested positive for Holsonbake’s DNA, Smith said.
Vandecasteele also told authorities Queen asked for help disposing of “something” the day after Holsonbake was taken to the garage. Vandecasteele, feeling lousy from drug use, didn’t go, but said Queen returned with dirt on his clothes, Smith said.
Cellphone data shows Queen traveled to the Maricopa area that day, Smith said.
Vandecasteele only agreed to testify after learning while in custody that his ex-girlfriend, Sara Wedemeyer, was dating Queen and had a child by him.
Months after the slaying, boys playing in the Kern River found a black bag, Smith said. Inside was a sweatshirt, rope and a decomposed arm with a zip tie around the wrist.
The arm was later identified as belonging to Holsonbake.
Last year another bag, found in the Lake Ming area, contained a skull. Dental records were used to identify it as belonging to Holsonbake, Smith said.
The prosecutor said expert witnesses will testify to how they determined a powerful impact to the head killed Holsonbake. A gunshot wound can’t be ruled out.
Despot, also charged with torture and murder, went missing in April 2018 and has not been heard from.
She, Holsonbake and Kulstad became known as the “Bakersfield 3” after each was either killed or went missing within two months of each other. Kulstad was fatally shot and no arrests have been made but his case is not believed connected to Holsonbake’s death and Despot’s disappearance.
Alleged kidnapping and threats
Queen allegedly threatened several people.
One alleged victim, Megan Farmer, testified Monday that Queen twice pointed a gun at her, the first time after driving her to an orchard and asking her how she would like it if her daughter grew up without a mother.
Farmer said she was friends with Despot, having gone to high school with her then reconnecting with her at a party at Queen’s house. She later found out Despot was living with Queen.
One night Queen and Holsonbake picked her up to take her to Queen’s house to hang out with Despot, Farmer testified. But Queen drove to an orchard instead.
Holsonbake “freaked out” and jumped out of the still-moving Suburban and ran, Farmer testified. Queen then pulled into the orchard and and ordered her to get out, she said.
She went to the front of the vehicle and Queen pulled a gun from the trunk, Farmer said. He pointed the gun at her head and threatened her, she said.
Farmer testified she fell to her knees and begged, “Please don’t.” Queen asked whether Despot had cheated on him, she said. She told him she didn’t believe so.
Queen told her to get up and they got back in the vehicle and went looking for Holsonbake before going to Queen’s house, Farmer said.
The second time he threatened her happened on a later date when she and Despot were hanging out in Despot’s bedroom, Farmer said. She told Despot she should leave Queen and then Queen walked into the room.
Queen retrieved a gun and threatened her, Farmer testified. She said her 1-year-old daughter was with her.
She left with her daughter and started walking home in the rain. Queen pulled up and told her he would give her a ride home, Farmer said. She said she got in the vehicle because she didn’t want her daughter to catch a cold.
Farmer also testified she twice heard Queen make threats about torturing people. One of those people was Holsonbake, she said.
During cross-examination, Farmer said she and Despot used drugs when they got together. Farmer said she used cocaine and “dabbled” with methamphetamine.
She said she knew Despot, Queen and Holsonbake were involved in illegal activity. Holsonbake sold her cocaine, she testified.
Also called to the witness stand were two officers who described pulling Queen and Despot over in December 2017 and finding four guns in the vehicle. One officer, Trent Alexander, testified the rifles appeared homemade as they didn’t have serial numbers or identifying marks.
Farmer’s cross-examination will continue Tuesday morning. The trial is expected to last about a month.