By Dave Oedel
After a carefully, professionally conducted week-long trial in Bibb County Superior Court by both prosecution and defense counsel, Andre Maurice Bonner, whose mug shot accompanies this article, was convicted on May 1, 2015 of murder and gang-related charges in the death of Jamonni Bland, 17. Bland suffered four gunshots to the back, chest and knee during the wee hours of July 5, 2013, and died on the cement floor of the underground parking deck adjacent to the Zodiac Lounge, now Icon, near the corner of Walnut and Broadway in downtown Macon.
Based on normal legal standards, Bonner’s basic murder conviction should be unshakeable on appeal, and appeal on that basic conviction is therefore doubtful. Sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 6, by Bibb Superior Court Judge Howard Simms. Gang-related enhancements, more legally questionable, were also found by the jury.
It was toward the end of a long night of July 4th revelry around Macon that things began to get dicey in the Zodiac Lounge nightclub. Deneen Bonner, the defendant’s sister and the sole witness for the defense (Andre Bonner declining to testify), explained under oath that she had been first at Scarlett Carsons nightclub off I-475 with her group, and then at Grant’s Lounge in downtown Macon, before riding over to the Zodiac at about 3 a.m. on July 5 to cap off the night. There “Dee” Bonner soon witnessed a rumble, where “everyone was fighting.” She admitted that her brother Andre was on hand at the Zodiac, along with a friend of theirs, John Hollingshed, and others, and that she also saw Bland in the parking area.
Dee Bonner testified that she didn’t see who shot Bland, but heard shooting going on for about “ten minutes.” At least thirty-six rounds were fired in the club and parking deck from about five guns, according the collection of shell casings found later. However, the gun shared by Bonner and Hollingshed, according to Hollingshed’s testimony, and allegedly used to shoot both Davis and Bland, was not recovered. Hollingshed admitted disposing of it after dropping Bonner off at the hospital.
Bonner was at the hospital because he’d been shot twice by the Zodiac’s security guard, Ricky Williams, who testified that he is “absolutely” certain that he shot Andre Bonner while Bonner appeared to be in the process of shooting Bland in the parking garage. “You don’t forget who you shoot,” the security guard explained. Williams and Bonner were only about 20 feet apart at that time, in a lighted area, and Bonner was wounded in his neck and arm.
Miranda Pettiway, Andre Bonner’s “baby mama,” drove the getaway car for both Bonner and Hollingshed, and offered testimony generally confirming the accounts of Hollingshed and Williams.
The rumble and subsequent gun fire were apparently precipitated when one patron, Deion Davis, 23, possibly perceived as being affiliated with the Crips gang and wearing blue that evening (blue being a color associated with the Crips), stepped on the sneaker of another patron, Arthur Freeman III, affiliated with the Macon Mafia. The Mafia’s trademark color is black, and Andre Bonner was wearing black that evening. Bonner and Bland had both been present at an earlier altercation at the Hole Thing pool hall on Shurling Drive in East Macon on May 31, 2013, so it is possible that the escalation to shooting on July 5 that year may have had deeper roots than the sneaker affront.
Deneen Bonner did say that Hollingshed, a former boyfriend of hers whom she had met in prison and who had recently been released from prison after serving ten years for armed robbery, said during the rising heat of the rumble that he was going to “air this bitch out.” When asked for the meaning of that term, Deneen Bonner she said that she understood Hollingshed to be saying that he would be shooting, and that the shooting would clear people out. Hollingshed admitted at Bonner’s trial that Hollingshed critically shot Davis with the gun that Hollingshed said that he then handed over to Bonner, who, according to Hollingshed, shortly thereafter used it to shoot Bland.
In connection with testifying at Bonner’s trial in which Hollingshed admitted shooting Davis and testifying that Bonner shot Bland, Hollingshed has accepted a 15-year prison plea for his role in shooting Davis. Davis recovered. Bonner, on the other hand, could get life with or without parole for his conviction for murdering Bland.
Dee Bonner’s testimony at trial revealed some of the parental dysfunction that ultimately led to the conviction of her younger brother Andre. When Dee was about 10 or 11 in 1992, and when Andre was about 8 or 9, their mother was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting on Ell Street, Macon. Their shared father, who lived out of state, did not raise the dead mother’s children. They instead were left to the care of others. Another sibling of Andre and Dee Bonner, Tuettie, was himself shot and killed a few years ago.
Parenting issues were also implied by other facts. The deceased, Jamonni Bland, only 17 when he was killed, was in a nightclub unlawfully, whether at 3 a.m. or anytime. Had Bland not been where he was not supposed to be, and been home under parental supervision at such an hour, his death would presumably not have occurred. And had the police and regulatory authorities insisted on skeptical, ironclad evidence of proper age at such a club, Bland would still be alive.
Andre Bonner and Miranda Pettiway were both out “clubbing” after 3.a.m despite having a child together. Had they been home with their child, neither one would have faced stunning prison time, and their child would not be at risk for placement with a non-biological custodian. Pettiway still awaits a resolution for her role in the case.
As to policing issues, the only gun for which anyone had a concealed weapons permit that night was the security guard, Ricky Williams, whose shooting of Bonner was deemed justifiable by police and prosecutors as necessary to prevent further harm. Both Hollingshed and Bonner as convicted felons should not even have been in possession of a gun, and as one can see from this case, that law is on the books for good reason. Earlier in the deadly night, Hollingshed was even picked up by a security guard when Hollingshed tried to enter the Zodiac with what would become the murder weapon. Hollingshed was allowed to keep the gun, and he stashed it temporarily in the parking garage instead of bringing it into the club. Had the gun been confiscated, the murder would not have occurred.
In summary, Andre Bonner has been found guilty of murder by the unanimous ruling of a predominantly African-American jury in Bibb County, Georgia. The record shows, however, that simple parenting and policing techniques could have helped prevent the death of Jamonni Bland, as well as convictions and incarcerations of Andre Bonner, John Hollingshed, Miranda Pettiway and others.