Macon man who threw first punch in Zodiac Lounge case draws prison stint

The man who threw a punch that authorities contend sparked a gang brawl, then subsequent gunfire at the Zodiac Lounge was sentenced to six years in prison Tuesday.

Arthur Freeman III, 29, pleaded guilty to violating Georgia’s Street Crime Terrorism and Prevention Act.

After he’s released from prison, Freeman must serve nine years on probation with special prohibitions against gang-related conduct.

“But for his actions, ... none of this ever would have happened,” prosecutor Sandra Matson said.

Members of Macon’s Mafia street gang gathered at the Zodiac Lounge, an after-hours night spot in the basement of the Riverview Ballroom, early on July 5, 2013. The club is located on Walnut Street, about two blocks from the Bibb County Courthouse in downtown Macon.

While there, an intoxicated Deion Davis stumbled into Freeman and “got up in” his face, Matson said.

Freeman “felt like he had been disrespected,” Matson said. The two exchanged words, and Freeman threw a punch.

Matson maintained that Freeman signaled his fellow Mafia members and they jumped in, beating Davis. Two gang members pleaded guilty last month to beating Davis -- one using a pool stick and another with a beer bottle.

After the fight, 29-year-old John Michael Hollingshed Jr. and Johnifer D. Barnwell, 28, retrieved a gun and went back inside, where Hollingshed fired shots at Davis, Matson said. Davis was shot eight times, but survived.

In the parking garage, Andre Bonner, 32, fatally shot 17-year-old Jamonni Bland at close range, Matson said.

Freeman’s lawyer, Paul Christian, said during the hearing that his client had nothing to do with shots being fired.

There was a break in the fighting between the single punch Freeman threw and when the gang members beat Davis, he said.

Christian disputed that the punch led to Davis being shot and Bland’s death.

“I’m a fan of science fiction and I understand the effect, according to those who write about time travel, of stepping on a grasshopper 2,000 years ago and the change that it causes today. And I understand that proximate cause can go on perpetually,” Christian said.

But in this instance, “He was involved in a fistfight. ... That’s all Mr. Freeman did. He didn’t condone, sanction, prepare or plan the murder or the gunfire,” Christian said. “He did not precipitate this event.”

Christian described Freeman as a music promoter who represented rap artists who had gang affiliations.

That night at the Zodiac Lounge, Freeman had been hired by the club, he said.

Despite a prior felony drug conviction, he hasn’t been convicted of any violent crimes, Christian said.

Speaking to the judge, Freeman denied having gang ties aside from representing rap artists who do.

Matson said Freeman initially denied any gang affiliation when he was booked into the county jail and was “beaten to a pulp” after being placed on a cell block with members of the Crips gang.

District Attorney David Cooke said Freeman’s gang affiliations are “well established” by the evidence.

“Anyone who commits an act of violence in furtherance of any gang should expect to face a severe penalty,” Cooke said. “It’s a shame that he derailed a promising career for nothing.”

A trial for the remaining men and woman charged in the case is set to begin next week.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack