BY ANDREW DALTON
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Both sides rested their cases Wednesday in the trial of a man charged with the killing of rapper Nipsey Hussle after a day’s delay because of an assault on the defendant by fellow jail inmates.
Closing arguments are set to begin Thursday in the trial of Eric Ronald Holder Jr., who is charged with first-degree murder in Hussle’s killing and attempted murder in the deaths of two other men struck by gunfire.
Holder appeared in court with swollen eyes and staples closing a wound in the back of his head.
He was punched and cut with a razor by two inmates while waiting in a holding cell to come to court on Tuesday, his attorney Aaron Jansen said.
The motive for the attack was unclear, and the issue was not discussed in the courtroom.
Jansen called two witnesses for the defense, including a private investigator and gang expert who testified to the seriousness of “snitching” allegations that the prosecution says were the motive for the shooting.
“As you grow up in the neighborhood, everybody knows the consequences of what it means to be labeled a snitch,” the investigator, Robert Freeman, said.
Both Hussle and Holder grew up in the same South Los Angeles neighborhood, and had ties to the same gang, the Rollin’ 60s.
Without naming Hussle, Jansen asked whether discussions of acting as an informant are especially serious if they come from a revered figure in the group.
“If they’re on OG or looked upon, whatever they say is almost gold in the streets,” Freeman answered.
Previous witnesses testified that on March 31, 2019, in a conversation outside the hip-hop star’s clothing store The Marathon, Hussle told Holder there were rumors of “paperwork” suggesting he’d been informing to authorities, and that Holder needed to address it. Holder returned about 10 minutes later and shot Hussle, the witnesses and prosecution said.
In his cross-examination of Freeman, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney got him to acknowledge that such conversations are not unusual, and that while beatings over them are frequent, killings over them are very rare.
“That kind of admonition is common in the hood among homies, among friends, is that correct?” McKinney asked.
“Yes,” Freeman answered.
“It’s not uncommon for someone to hear about it, and then address it. It happens all the time, right?”
Freeman again answered, “yes.”
“That person can do everything from deny it to get a piece of paper to say it didn’t happen,” McKinney said, and Freeman agreed.
The issue of “snitching” has hung over the entire case, not only as the alleged motive but in the reluctance to testify of prosecution witnesses, one of whom, Hussle’s friend and shooting eyewitness Evan “Rimpau” MacKenzie, failed to appear despite a subpoena and a bench warrant.
McKinney had rested the prosecution’s case earlier Wednesday, the eighth day of testimony though the first in nearly a week after a pair of planned days off and the delay over Holder’s assault, which was first reported by Rolling Stone.
In the face of overwhelming evidence including eyewitnesses who knew both Hussle and Holder, surveillance photos and video, and testimony from the womanwho acted as his unwitting getaway driver, Jansen acknowledged in his opening statement that Holder was the shooter, but said there were mitigating circumstances, including a lack of premeditation, that mean he is not guilty of first-degree murder.
Hussle, whose legal name was Ermias Asghedom, had just released his major-label debut after years of underground acclaim and had been nominated for his first Grammy Award when he was killed at age 33.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton