By FRED SHUSTER
LOS ANGELES – A defense attorney suggested Thursday that an insult hurled by Nipsey Hussle at a fellow gang member sparked the rapper’s murder outside his South Los Angeles clothing store.
Aaron Jansen, who is representing accused killer Eric Ronald Holder Jr., indicated that Hussle called his client a snitch just prior to the April 2, 2019, shooting.
A Los Angeles Police Department gang specialist testified that the snitch label is one of the most serious insults imaginable in the world of street gangs. The officer told jurors that both Hussle and Holder were members of the same South Los Angeles street gang — and that the act or perhaps just the perception of helping police in an investigation would be met with a range of consequences.
The penalty for being suspected of snitching can range from being “isolated” to being beaten and kicked out of the gang, said LAPD Sgt. Gilberto Gaxiola, who stopped short of saying murder might also result.
Holder 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.
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 previously told the jury in downtown Los Angeles 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.”
A Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner investigator is expected to take the stand when testimony resumes Tuesday to describe the injuries that caused Hussle’s death.
Holder’s attorney has 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 previously told the panel.
Gaxiola testified that he had dealt with Hussle “at least 50 times” on the street in the years before the rapper found success in the rap game, and had met Holder as part of his job “no more than 10 times in the neighborhood.”
The defense attorney first showed the panel a black-and-white photo of an apparently teenage Hussle “throwing up” gang signs, then presented a color photo taken many years later of the tattooed rapper again making gang signs.
McKinney, for his part, displayed photos of Holder’s torso, neck and arms covered in gang-related tattoos.
In his opening statement, Holder’s attorney noted that although his client is charged with murder, the charge should instead be “voluntary manslaughter” because he was acting “in the heat of passion.”
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.”