Testimony wrapped up Wednesday in the trial of the man charged with murdering rapper Nipsey Hussle outside his South Los Angeles clothing store, after a one-day delay caused when the defendant was apparently attacked in a jail holding cell.
Eric Ronald Holder Jr.’s trial was delayed Tuesday, with Superior Court Judge H. Clay Jacke telling the panel that the case wouldn’t be in session “based on some unforeseen circumstances.”
Defense attorney Aaron 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, and subsequently underwent an MRI and required three staples to the back of his head. He also suffered a swollen left eye and swelling on the left side of his face, according to the attorney.
“He was obviously in some pain yesterday. He’s OK to go forward,” Jansen said Wednesday morning.
When the trial resumed Wednesday, 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 that 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.
Jurors are due back in court Thursday morning, when the panel is expected to hear closing arguments from attorneys, along with receiving jury instructions from the judge.
Holder, 32, is charged with murdering the 33-year-old Hussle — whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom — outside the rapper’s clothing store near Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard on March 31, 2019.
The defendant 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.
Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told the jury in his opening statement that the rapper had told Holder there was word on the street that he had been “snitching,” but there was “no hostility” before Holder left the parking lot and then returned to the strip mall a short time later firing two guns.
Hussle was struck by at least 10 and possibly 11 bullets in an “explosion of violence,” the prosecutor said, noting that the rapper was “shot from literally the bottom of his feet to the top of his head.”
Jansen conceded to jurors 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 the panel in his opening statement.
Holder’s attorney noted that although his client is charged with murder, the charge should instead be voluntary manslaughter.
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 that he was terminated from the force while he was still on probation, said a gang member does have opportunities to address rumors that they have been talking with police.
He 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.
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.”