Chapel Hill News

Investigative show digs into ‘Killer Instinct’ behind 2008 murder

Josh Bailey relaxes at home in this family photo taken during the Christmas holiday in 2007 – seven months before he was killed.
Josh Bailey relaxes at home in this family photo taken during the Christmas holiday in 2007 – seven months before he was killed. Contributed

The 2008 murder of Josh Bailey will be in the spotlight again next month when investigative reporter Chris Hansen takes television viewers on “a journey of discovery.”

Hansen spent a week in Orange County in May for the ITN Productions show “Killer Instinct,” which will air in September on Investigation Discovery (Time Warner Channel 138/AT&T U-verse Channel 260).

Hansen is best known for his work on “To Catch a Predator” and “Dateline NBC.” His new show explores cases that aren’t widely reported, that people haven’t spoken out about or that have compelling interest, he said.

“My approach to the story ... is if you can get into a criminal’s mind and understand how it works and understand how crime is committed, you can help prevent it from happening to someone else,” Hansen said.

Josh Bailey was 20 and trying to find his way through a life with mental illness when he fell in with the wrong crowd, his parents Julie and Steve Bailey said. The Baileys adopted Josh and his two brothers when Josh was 7.

Six young people were charged with his July 29, 2008, murder. Brian Minton, the reported ringleader, was sentenced to life in prison plus 32 years. The gunman Matt Johnson, who witnesses said acted on Minton’s order, got 24 to 30 years in prison.

Four others – Jacob Maxwell, Brandon Greene, Jack Johnson II and Ryan Lee – also were sentenced to prison. Lee, who testified against his co-defendants, will be the first one to get out. His release is set for Aug. 29.

Court testimony revealed the young men, their friends and girlfriends were hanging out at the Minton garage south of Carrboro that summer, drinking, using drugs and sometimes committing drug-related and violent crimes.

They confronted Matt Johnson about whether he was stealing from them and snitching to police. Johnson blamed Bailey, and the group forced them to fight. The loser would be the snitch, they said.

Bailey had not snitched but lost the fight, and the group attacked him before binding him with zip ties and duct tape. They drove to a rural area off Dairyland Road, a few blocks from the Bailey home, and walked him into the woods.

It was there that Minton ordered Matt Johnson at gunpoint to shoot and kill Bailey.

But the story didn’t end there.

They dug up the body a few days later and drove to Jordan Lake, where they buried it in a deeper grave with help from Minton’s father Gregory Minton and a family friend Chris Manley. Minton’s mother arranged to rent a U-Haul truck from her husband’s gas station to move Bailey’s body and drove the young men to Lowes to buy acid to pour on it.

The case unraveled after Minton and others kidnapped Matt Johnson, beating him at a Pittsboro body shop as a warning against going to the police.

Bailey’s killers and accomplices declined interviews, but Hansen spoke with his parents, friends, investigators and prosecutors. District Attorney Jim Woodall and Orange County Sheriff’s Investigator Tim Horne consulted with Steve and Julie Bailey before agreeing to appear.

“(Hansen) said that one of the things he was impressed with was how loyal the law enforcement agencies were to us,” Steve Bailey said. “We actually become friends with Tim and some of them. They treated us great, all of them.”

He and his wife had attended every court hearing for six years; it wasn’t easy to re-live it again, he said. But they decided the interview could bring more attention to mental health issues and services, he said.

The couple founded Josh’s Hope Foundation in 2010 to help young adults with serious mental health issues and their caregivers. They’ve served close to 300 families in some way, Bailey said, and they’ve “had five life-changing success stories” in three years.

Hansen, the father of two young men, said his heart went out to the Baileys.

“All these cases are tragic, but this one is so over-the-top senseless on so many different levels,” Hansen said. “Any one of these kids had a chance to stop this and didn’t. I think some of them probably thought they were going to scare the hell out of Josh and let him go.”

Minton was the glue holding the group together, Horne said, and although others later showed remorse, Minton never did.

“They killed this kid and went on back to the garage to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol and joked around. That’s not the normal reaction and response that somebody’s going to have after they just murdered somebody,” Horne said.

State Bureau of Investigation agents Phillip Stevens and Justin Heinrich helped him lead the investigation with help from dozens of local and state officers, crime scene technicians and investigators. They had to act quickly, leaving the suspects no time to plan or compare stories, Horne said.

“When all is said and done, you work on it 24 hours a day it seems, and then there’s a lull,” he said. “Then every time there’s a trial, you ramp back up again. That went on for six years to get everybody through the court process.”

Hansen asked about the logistics of prosecuting a case with so many defendants, bystanders and witnesses, Woodall said, and the details of his strategy. He was impressed by the preparation Hansen and the crew put into his interview, he said.

Johnson, who was there nearly every step of the way, was a pivotal witness, Woodall said.

“It was really just stupid and juvenile in a way, but then it led to Josh being killed, and so people were left with no ability to understand that. Of course, during the trial, I told (the jury) I’m never going to be able to make sense of this for you, because it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Steve Bailey stopped tracking the killers about a year ago. They don’t call them by name anymore, he said, just “the evil ones.”

The family has moved to a new home, and Josh’s brothers, who suffered after his death, are doing better and working part-time jobs, he said.

“We haven’t had a hospitalization for anybody in three years, which is amazing,” Bailey said. “We used to be happy with six months. Now, we’ve gone three years; I’m happy.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Where they are

▪ Brian Minton, 27, is serving life plus 32 years for first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping

▪ Jacob Maxwell, 26, is serving 38 years for second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping

▪ Brandon Green, 34, is serving life plus eight years for first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping

▪ Matt Johnson, 28, is serving 24 to 30 years for second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping

▪ Jack Johnson II, 27, is serving 22 to 28 years for second-degree murder and conspiracy

▪ Ryan Lee, 29, is serving eight years for accessory after the fact to first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to first-degree kidnapping

▪ Mishele Minton, 45, was released in 2015 after serving one year and four months for being an accessory after the fact to second-degree kidnapping and obstructing justice

▪ Gregory Minton, 49, served probation for obstruction of justice

▪ Chris Manley also served probation for obstruction of justice

Josh’s Hope

Josh’s Hope Foundation is located at 200 Cardinal Drive in Hillsborough. Learn more about the group’s programs, support services and other resources at joshshopefoundation.org or call 919-245-0072.

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