By TERRI VERMEULEN KEITH
LOS ANGELES – A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that a man opened fire with two guns on Nipsey Hussle outside the rapper’s clothing store in the Hyde Park area of Los Angeles just over three years ago, while one of the defense attorneys acknowledged that his client killed the musician but said the crime occurred in the “heat of passion.”
Eric Ronald Holder Jr., 32, is charged with murder for the March 31, 2019, slaying of the 33-year-old rapper, whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom.
Holder, an aspiring rapper, is also charged with two counts each of attempted murder and assault with a firearm and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, along with allegations that he personally and intentionally discharged a handgun and that he personally inflicted great bodily injury.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told the downtown Los Angeles jury that Holder “pulls out not one but two guns and starts shooting” after a conversation with the rapper that included allegations of “snitching.” The prosecutor said the rapper had told Holder that there was word on the street that he had been “snitching,” but that there was “no hostility” before Holder left the parking lot and then returned soon afterward to the strip mall.
“You can see him shoot from the left hand and the right hand,” the prosecutor said of surveillance video.
The rapper was struck by at least 10 and possibly 11 bullets in an “explosion of violence,” McKinney said, noting that he was “shot from literally the bottom of his feet to the top of his head” and that he would have been a paraplegic if he survived because one bullet transected his spine.
Holder allegedly told the fallen rapper, “You’re through,” and kicked him in the head before running from the scene, according to the prosecutor.
Both men had grown up in South Los Angeles in a neighborhood claimed by a gang and were recruited into the gang at a fairly young age, McKinney told jurors.
One of Holder’s attorneys, Aaron Jansen, told jurors, “This is a case about heat of passion.”
The defense lawyer, who was set to wrap up his opening statement Wednesday afternoon, conceded that his client “shot and killed” the rapper, that a bullet accidentally struck another man and that a third man might have been grazed.
He noted that Holder surrendered himself at a mental health clinic in Bellflower three days after the shooting.
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.”