The man who admittedly gunned down beloved rapper Nipsey Hussle in a caught-on-video attack three years ago rested his strikingly short defense in less than three hours at his first-degree murder trial Wednesday — a day after he allegedly was jumped and beaten unconscious by fellow inmates in county jail.
Eric Holder Jr. sat at the defense table with an obviously swollen left eye and three staples in his head as prosecutors showed harrowing autopsy photos before resting their case by 10:30 a.m. and handing the reins to Holder’s public defender, Aaron Jansen.
Nothing was said to the jury about Holder’s obvious injuries before the evidence and testimony phase of the two-week trial ended by mid-afternoon. As Rolling Stone first reported Tuesday, Holder was attacked by two inmates who purportedly, according to his lawyer, pummeled him and cut his head with a razor.
Jansen elaborated on the jail attack Wednesday, telling reporters during a break outside the courtroom that the incident started when “some guy sucker-punched” Holder in a holding cell filled with inmates waiting to be transported to court Tuesday morning. The alleged assailants “didn’t say anything,” Jansen said, so the motive for the beatdown wasn’t immediately linked to the trial.
“He did lose consciousness,” Jansen said of Holder. “He’s in some pain, (but) he’s okay to go forward.”
As expected, Holder did not testify in his own defense. Instead, Jansen called Hussle’s friend Herman “Cowboy” Douglas back to the witness stand to re-analyze the conversation that preceded the shooting. Jansen also brought in his own gang expert, who described Holder as an apparently “inactive” member of the Rollin’s 60s Crips the day of the shooting.
With Holder’s admission he’s the shooter captured on surveillance video showing the March 31, 2019 attack. The case boils down to whether the crime qualifies as premeditated, first-degree murder, as prosecutors allege, or an act carried out in the “heat of passion,” as Jansen described it in his opening statement back on June 15. According to the defense, Holder believed that Hussle had accused him of “snitching” that day when he allegedly mentioned “paperwork” during their initial conversation amid a chance encounter in the parking lot of Hussle’s South Los Angeles clothing store, The Marathon. Holder became “so enflamed and enraged” by the exchange, he opened fire on the celebrated musician “a mere nine minutes later,” before he had time to “cool off,” Jansen said in his opening.
On Wednesday, Jansen confronted Douglas with his grand jury testimony from May 2019 to expand on what he told jurors two weeks ago when he was first called by Deputy District Attorney John McKinney. (Douglas testified June 15 that Hussle greeted Holder that day while signing autographs and told him that a rumor was circulating that Holder had “some paperwork floating around” related to his possible cooperation with law enforcement and that he needed to “take care of it” to “clear” himself.)
Jansen read from the grand jury transcript where Douglas testified that Hussle was “basically warning the dude, like you know, ‘They got some paperwork on you. I haven’t read the paperwork, but,’ you know, ‘You got to watch your back.’”
Douglas, who walked into court wearing a rhinestone-studded white jacket and dark cowboy hat that he removed as he approached the witness stand, confirmed that he gave the grand jury testimony, but he said he wasn’t quoting Hussle directly. “Nipsey never told him to ‘watch his back.’ That was me generalizing the conversation,” he testified. Douglas said he never heard either Hussle or Holder use the words “snitch” or “snitching.”
Robert Freeman, a private investigator specializing in gangs, took the witness stand next and testified for the defense that being called a “snitch” is so serious in gang culture, it could put someone’s “life in jeopardy to be beat up or killed.”
“Which is worse, being called a snitch or saying they have paperwork?” Jansen asked.
“Having paperwork means there’s proof, so that’s worse,” Freeman said, defining paperwork as proof of cooperation with law enforcement ranging from court transcripts to police reports.
On cross-examination, Freeman conceded to McKinney that when confronted with a snitching accusation, gang members often are given the chance to “address it.” He also said that in his 26-year career investigating gangs — during which he’s talked to hundreds of gang members about alleged crimes — he’s never heard of one of his sources getting killed for talking to him. “You could take a beatdown,” he said. “Maybe you’re not killed, but I think that’s serious.”
Before prosecutors rested Wednesday morning, they called Los Angeles County Medical Examiner Lawrence Nguyen as their final witness. McKinney walked Nguyen through a series of harrowing, brightly lit autopsy photos showing the 11 gunshot wounds on Hussle’s dead body. The never-before-seen images caused some observers in the packed courtroom audience, including a friend who arrived with Douglas, to gasp. One showed a gunshot entry and exit wound near the top of Hussle’s head.
Nguyen said one bullet entered Hussle’s right abdomen, blasted through his liver and severed his spinal cord. The doctor said that injury would have left Hussle paralyzed had he survived. Nguyen said he believes Hussle was struck by 11 separate bullets, though it was possible one bullet hit his elbow and then re-entered his body somewhere else. He said the rapper suffered “a significant amount of bleeding,” with more than a liter of blood found pooled in his chest.
Jurors took notes throughout the last day of evidence and were ordered back to court Thursday morning for closing arguments.
Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, grew up in South Los Angeles and was already a Grammy-nominated musician, father of two and local philanthropist known for investing back in his community when he was killed. He won two posthumous Grammys for his songs “Racks in the Middle” and “Higher” shortly after he died.
In a December 2018 interview with Rolling Stone, Nipsey shared why his acclaimed Victory Lap album, which garnered his first Grammy nomination, meant so much to him: “There are life stories on there. You look at other albums that have been recognized in the past and you see the same quality. I know it’s my music, and I’m close to it.”