LOS ANGELES—Rapper Nipsey Hussle was gunned down outside his clothing shop in a calculated, premeditated fashion by a man upset over a discussion about snitching, a prosecutor told jurors at the outset of a long-delayed murder trial.
Deputy District Attorney John McKinney said during his opening statement that there’s “no doubt” Eric R. Holder knew in advance that he would kill Nipsey. The prosecutor described the sequence of events, including the talk about “snitching,” before Nipsey’s shooting death three years ago in the South Los Angeles neighborhood where both men grew up and the rapper was helping revitalize. Two others were wounded in the shooting.
In addition to shooting Nipsey at least 10 times, Mr. Holder kicked the rapper in the head before fleeing, Mr. McKinney told the jury assembled in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
“He clearly thought about what he was going to do before he did it,” Mr. McKinney told jurors about Mr. Holder’s intentions.
Mr. Holder, 32, faces one count of first degree-murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Nipsey, a hip-hop artist, father of two, and widely beloved South LA local born Ermias Asghedom, was shot and killed at age 33 on March 31, 2019, in the parking lot outside his store, known as The Marathon.
Deputy District Attorney McKinney said Mr. Holder and Nipsey knew each other, growing up in the same neighborhood where they were members of the same gang, the Rollin’ 60s.
In his opening statement, Mr. McKinney showed jurors videos and photos of the shooting and its aftermath. Images showed the shooting and Mr. Holder fleeing the scene, wearing a red shirt and bandana while carrying a semiautomatic gun and a revolver. After a two-day manhunt, Mr. Holder was arrested, and two months later he was indicted by a grand jury.
Mr. McKinney said the shooting stemmed from Nipsey hearing that Mr. Holder was a snitch and needed to “clear that up.” Before the shooting, he said the rapper and his two friends were having a “cool conversation” with Mr. Holder. He said Nipsey visited the store without any security.
Attorney Aaron Jansen has a formidable task in defending Mr. Holder, who could get life in prison if convicted. Multiple eyewitnesses who knew both Mr. Holder and Nipsey told police and grand jurors that Mr. Holder walked up to Nipsey and gunned him down.
Defense attorney Jansen has said that Nipsey’s killing was not premeditated, and the shooting of the other two men was not intended at all, making the first-degree murder and attempted murder charges excessive. He is also likely to make Mr. Holder’s mental health an issue.
On June 15, Atty. Jansen said Mr. Holder was triggered and didn’t have time to cool off before he gunned down Nipsey saying this is a case of “heated passion.”
Former gang member Herman “Cowboy” Douglas, who worked at The Marathon, said Nipsey didn’t use the actual word “snitch” while overhearing the conversation. He thought Nipsey was trying to give Mr. Holder some advice in a “chill” exchange. He said Mr. Holder asked Nipsey if he had listened to his recent music, but he didn’t sense any animosity between both men.
“He was saying ’I heard there was some paperwork floating around,” said Mr. Douglas, who recalled Nipsey’s words to Mr. Holder. Mr. Douglas was an employee at the clothing store, cleaning the parking lot along with other duties. He viewed himself as a mentor to Nipsey, saying he was like his “little brother.”
Mr. Douglas, 49, who wore a black jacket and T-shirt with Nipsey’s image on both, said Nipsey added that “I haven’t seen (the paperwork.) You need to take care of that.”
Another key witness expected to testify is the woman Deputy District Attorney McKinney said unwittingly served as Mr. Holder’s ride to flee the scene, Bryannita Nicholson.
Mr. Holder and Ms. Nicholson had stopped to get food near The Marathon. That led to a chance meeting and brief conversation between Mr. Holder and Nipsey.
Prosecutor McKinney said that “moved Eric Holder to a point of wanting to return to the parking lot and kill Nipsey Hussle.”
Mr. McKinney said Mr. Holder told Ms. Nicholson “Drive before I slap you,” following the shooting.
Attorneys have spent nearly two weeks choosing a jury, and the trial is expected to last until late June.
Nipsey, whose nickname is a play on a famous 1970s comedian, was given the moniker for his work ethic as he slung CDs. He spent years winning a devoted following through mixtapes and underground releases, and broke through with his first major-label album, earning a Grammy nomination just months before he was killed.
His death reverberated around the world but it was especially felt in his hometown, where people filled the streets to mark his loss and where he was mourned at a memorial at the 20,000-seat arena then known as Staples Center. In the same building nearly a year later his memory was celebrated in a performance by DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, John Legend and others at the Grammy Awards, on the same day another local hero, Kobe Bryant, was killed in a helicopter crash.
Nipsey left behind his longtime partner, actor Lauren London, with whom he had a son who is now 5 years old. He also had a daughter who is now 13.
Mr. Holder was indicted on one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Mr. Holder, who has pleaded not guilty, faces up to life in prison if convicted. (AP)