A prosecutor urged jurors Thursday to convict a man of murdering rapper Nipsey Hussle and wounding two others by opening fire with two guns outside the musician’s South Los Angeles clothing store, telling the panel the attack on the musician was “personal” and ended with a kick to his head.
Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told the downtown Los Angeles jury during his closing argument that Eric Ronald Holder Jr. was “already planning to kill Nipsey Hussle” when he began putting bullets in a black semi-automatic handgun after being driven away from the parking lot following a March 31, 2019, conversation with the 33-year-old rapper, in which the topic of snitching allegedly came up.
“The approach he took was to stay out of their view until he was right back on them,” the prosecutor said of the 32-year-old defendant’s return minutes later to the parking lot near Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. “When he walked up to the group, he said, `You’re through’ to Nipsey Hussle. He didn’t say, `I’m not a snitch.’ He didn’t say, `Why are you talking about me?…”
The prosecutor told jurors that Hussle was a “successful artist from the same neighborhood as Eric Holder, who’s an unsuccessful artist.”
“I submit to you that the motive for killing Nipsey Hussle had little to do with the conversation they had … There’s pre-existing jealousy,” McKinney said, prompting a quick objection from defense attorney Aaron Jansen. “Saying `You’re through’ before shooting him and shooting him a number of times … kicking him in the head, that’s personal … What makes this murder first-degree is premeditation and deliberation.”
McKinney told the panel that Hussle had joined a gang as a youngster, had changed over time and “wanted to change the neighborhood,” but remained accessible without an entourage, security or fanfare while standing outside his business when he was shot by somebody with whom he had shaken hands just minutes before on “just another beautiful Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.”
“These bullets traumatized a whole community,” the prosecutor said. “Eric Holder did all of this to a neighborhood that he didn’t live in for quite some time.”
The defense is expected to give its closing argument later Thursday.
In his opening statement, Holder’s attorney conceded that his client “shot and killed” the rapper, but said the crime occurred in the “heat of passion.”
Holder was “so enraged” about the rapper’s accusation that he was a snitch that he returned nine minutes later “without thinking” and “acted without premeditation” in opening fire on him, Jansen told jurors.
Holder’s attorney noted that his client is charged with murder, but said the charge should instead be voluntary manslaughter — which is one of the options the jury can consider in connection with the killing of Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom.
Holder is also charged with two counts of attempted murder and assault with a firearm involving two other people, along with one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. The charges include allegations that he personally and intentionally discharged a handgun and that he personally inflicted great bodily injury.
Jurors heard eight days of testimony during the trial, which was delayed for a day Tuesday following what Holder’s attorney said was an attack in jail.
Jansen told reporters outside court Wednesday that his client lost consciousness after being attacked Tuesday morning in a jail holding cell with other inmates while waiting to be taken to court. He subsequently underwent an MRI and required three staples to the back of his head, also suffering a swollen left eye and swelling on the left side of his face, according to the attorney.
Jurors were shown autopsy photos during the testimony of a medical examiner who said the musician suffered 11 gunshot wounds from his head to one of his feet.
Dr. Lawrence Nguyen — who reviewed the results of the autopsy done by another medical examiner who is unavailable to testify — told jurors that he concluded the cause of the rapper’s death was “multiple gunshot wounds.”
“I believe the number of shots to be within the realm of 10 to 11,” Nguyen told the downtown Los Angeles jury hearing the case.
One of the rapper’s wounds — caused by a bullet that entered through the rapper’s right abdomen — severed his spinal cord and would likely have caused paralysis in the lower extremities if he had survived the shooting, the medical examiner testified.
During the defense’s portion of the case, private investigator Robert Freeman told jurors that being called a snitch could put a gang member at risk of being beaten or killed. He noted that it would be more dangerous for an accusation about snitching to be made against someone in public where others could hear it and that something said by someone with a high status within a gang is “almost gold” on the streets.
Freeman, a former Los Angeles police officer who acknowledged being terminated from the force while he was still on probation, also told jurors that the firing of two guns — one in each hand that Holder allegedly wielded during the shooting — would lessen the accuracy of the shots. He noted that a two-handed grip on a gun is the best way to shoot with accuracy.
Holder was not called to testify in his own defense.
After Hussle’s death, thousands of people were on hand in April 2019 for a service in his honor, with singer Stevie Wonder and rapper Snoop Dogg among those paying tribute to him.
In a letter that was read during the service, former President Barack Obama wrote, “While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. He saw a community that, even through its flaws, taught him to always keep going.”
The rapper-entrepreneur was posthumously honored with two Grammy Awards in 2020 for best rap performance for “Racks in the Middle” and for best rap/sung performance for “Higher.”