A man who gunned down rapper Nipsey Hussle in front of the musician’s South Los Angeles clothing store — but whose attorney insisted the killing was an impulsive act committed in the heat of passion — was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder.
Jurors also found Eric Holder Jr., 32, guilty of two counts each of attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm involving two other people who were injured in the March 31, 2019, shooting, along with one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. Jurors also found true allegations that he personally and intentionally discharged a handgun and that he personally inflicted great bodily injury on one of the victims.
Holder’s attorney argued during the trial that the shooting was carried out in the “heat of passion,” and did not rise to the level of first-degree murder. He argued that, at most, Holder committed manslaughter when he killed the 33-year-old rapper, whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom, outside Hussle’s story near Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue.
Jurors deliberated for nearly five hours on Friday, then met for just over a half-hour Wednesday morning before announcing they had reached a verdict.
Holder is facing a potential life prison term when he is sentenced Sept. 15.
Shortly after the verdict, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told reporters, “I want to say on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office that we are both proud and I am personally a little relieved that the verdict came in a complete, absolute agreement with the charges that Eric Holder murdered Ermias Asghedom in cold blood.”
“… We hope that today is a day in which the Asghedom family, the friends and fans of Nipsey Hussle around the world find some measure of closure,” the prosecutor said. “Obviously nothing that happened here today can heal the wound. Nothing that happened here today can restore Mr. Asghedom to this world. But again, we hope that there is some resounding peace in the fact that his killer will be in prison — likely for the rest of his life.”
When the trial began last month, defense attorney Aaron Jansen conceded his client “shot and killed” the rapper, but said the crime in which his client fired with one gun in each hand occurred in the “heat of passion.”
In his closing argument Thursday, Jansen told jurors: “This was an act of impulse and rashness.”
The defense attorney said his client had “no cooling-off period” after being “called publicly a snitch by someone as famous as Nipsey Hussle” nine minutes and 10 seconds earlier.
“This is a provocation that stirs up rage and powerful emotions,” Jansen said.
Holder’s attorney also contended that the case was “overcharged from the beginning,” and that the correct charge against Holder involving the rapper’s slaying should have been voluntary manslaughter — an option Superior Court Judge H. Clay Jacke told jurors earlier they could consider.
The prosecutor told jurors that the killing was “cold-blooded” and “calculated,” saying Holder had “quite a bit of time for premeditation and deliberation” before returning to the parking lot near Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard where the rapper was shot 10 to 11 times.
“He’s not consumed by rage,” the prosecutor said, saying the defense’s argument that he had been provoked was “nonsense.”
Hussle was a “successful artist from the same neighborhood as Eric Holder, who’s an unsuccessful artist,” the prosecutor said.
“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 the defense attorney.
“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,” the prosecutor said.
McKinney told the panel Hussle joined a gang as a youngster, 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.”
“You can’t bring Nipsey back … But you can do justice. Please do justice,” McKinney told the panel shortly before the case was handed over to the jury.
The deputy district attorney said the attempted murder charges were a “closer question,” but said he believed that jurors would ultimately conclude that they were “not mere accidental shootings.”
Jurors acquitted Holder of the attempted murder charge involving Kerry Lathan, who was shot in the back, finding the defendant guilty instead of attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm. The prosecutor said the panel — which found Holder guilty of the same charges involving a second victim who was grazed by a bullet — may not have been given the verdict form for attempted murder involving that victim.
Holder’s attorney said there was “no hatred” and “no jealousy towards Nipsey Hussle” over his successful music career, telling jurors the allegation of snitching was a “serious” accusation made in public by someone of the rapper’s stature and that Hussle didn’t provide his client with any details when questioned.
“It’s not victim-blaming, it’s not an excuse and it’s not a justification,” Jansen said.
The defense attorney also said his client — who was “just living his life in Long Beach” and wasn’t in a gang any longer — had been overcharged with attempted murder involving the two other men who were injured in the gunfire, saying that “he had no reason to kill these other two individuals.”
Jurors heard eight days of testimony during the trial, which was delayed for a day last Tuesday following what Holder’s attorney said was an attack on Holder in jail.
Jansen told reporters outside court last Wednesday that his client lost consciousness after being attacked the previous 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.
The jury was shown autopsy photos during the testimony of a medical examiner who said Hussle 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.
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 did not 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.”
Herman “Cowboy” Douglas, who was at the shopping center that day and testified as a prosecution witness, cried softly outside court after the verdict.
He told reporters later that he still wants to understand why his close friend was shot and killed, saying that the rapper “never called that man a snitch.”
“It was so senseless. Why?” he said, adding that a “good person” was taken from the world.
“He had finally arrived. He had finally made it,” Douglas said of the rapper.