LOS ANGELES – A man who was shot in the back during an attack that killed rapper Nipsey Hussle in front of the musician’s clothing store in South Los Angeles just over three years ago testified Thursday that he heard “a lot” of gunshots.
Kerry Lathan received a package of clothing from the rapper after being released from state prison and he told the downtown Los Angeles jury hearing the case against Eric Ronald Holder Jr. that he shook the rapper’s hand and was speaking with him before they were shot on March 31, 2019.
Holder, is charged with murder involving the death of Hussle — whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom — outside the rapper’s Hyde Park-area store.
Holder is also charged with two counts of attempted murder and assault with a firearm involving Lathan and his nephew, 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.
“Were you talking to him (Nipsey Hussle) when someone walked up and shot you?” Deputy District Attorney John McKinney asked.
“Yes,” the 59-year-old man said.
“How many shots did you hear?” the prosecutor asked.
“A lot,” the witness responded.
Lathan said he tried to run from the gunfire, but was only able to make it about two steps away.
He told jurors that he didn’t see the person who fired the shots and didn’t know if it was a man or a woman, with the prosecutor subsequently noting that the witness had earlier told the grand jury that a “guy just came around shooting.”
“… You don’t want to testify about what happened?” the deputy district attorney asked Lathan.
“Yes, that’s right,” the witness responded.
Lathan — who said he still has the bullet lodged inside of him — testified that he was able to walk with the aid of a walker after the shooting, but has since suffered a stroke that resulted in him being brought into court in a wheelchair.
The prosecutor told jurors in his opening statement Wednesday that Holder “pulls out not one but two guns and starts shooting” after a conversation with the rapper that included allegations of “snitching,” saying he returned to the strip mall after having plenty of opportunity “to think about what he was going to do.”
The prosecutor said 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 soon afterward to the strip mall.
Hussle, who was 33, was struck by at least 10 and possibly 11 bullets in an “explosion of violence,” McKinney said, noting that the rapper 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.
One of Holder’s attorneys, Aaron Jansen, conceded 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, the defense attorney told the nine-woman, three-man panel.
Holder’s attorney noted that his client is charged with murder, but told jurors, “In fact, it should be voluntary manslaughter because he was acting in the heat of passion.” The defense lawyer said he is confident the panel will acquit his client of first-degree murder, along with the two attempted murder counts.
Holder surrendered himself at a mental health clinic in Bellflower three days after the shooting, according to his lawyer.
In other testimony Thursday, a prosecution witness broke down in tears as he described hearing the gunfire while he was inside a nearby burger restaurant.
Christian Johnson said he initially heard one gunshot and thought it was a firework, then heard multiple shots that sent him ducking for cover.
When asked if it shook him up, he responded, “It still does. I dream about it every night “
Another witness, Danae Wright, said she was in the parking lot with her two children when she heard the gunshots, but did not see the person who was firing.
Testimony is set to resume Monday in Holder’s trial.