Trial into murder of Nipsey Hussle opens

Defendant Eric Ronald Holder Jr. concedes that he shot Hussle but pleads not guilty to all charges

The Nipsey Hussle murder trial has opened, more than three years after the Los Angeles rapper was shot dead.

Defendant Eric Ronald Holder Jr., who has admitted that he shot the Grammy award-winning rapper in March 2019 outside the Marathon clothing shop that he co-owned, appeared for his arraignment yesterday (June 15).

He is charged with one count of murder and one of possession of a firearm by a felon, along with two each of attempted murder and assault with a firearm. The latter charges relate to two bystanders, Kerry Lathan and Shermi Villanueva, who were injured in the alleged shooting.

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Holder, 23, has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder for the bullets that struck Lathan and Villanueva, two counts of assault with a firearm, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.

The defendant concedes that he shot Hussle, causing his death, but denies that the killing was premeditated and instead happened in “the heat of passion”, per his lawyer Aaron Jansen.

Eric Ronald Holder Jr. s accused of killing Nipsey Hussle
Eric Ronald Holder Jr. is accused of killing of rapper Nipsey Hussle. CREDIT: Patrick Fallon-Pool/Getty Images

It’s claimed that Lathan was shot once in back and Villanueva allegedly suffered a graze wound after a bullet struck his belt buckle.

“This is a case about the heat of passion,” Jansen told jurors in an LA courtroom [via Rolling Stone]. “On March 31, 2019, Eric Ronald Holder Jr. shot and killed Nipsey Hussle on Slauson and Crenshaw, in front of a clothing store, Marathon clothing.”

He claimed that Hussle had accused Holden of “snitching” and Holder became “so enflamed and enraged” that he opened fire “nine minutes later” before he had time to “cool off.”.

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Hussle, who won two posthumous Grammys in 2020 for his songs ‘Racks In The Middle’ and ‘Higher’, grew up in the same south Los Angeles neighbourhood where he died. The rapper born Ermias Asghedom was celebrated for supporting his local community.

Asghedom has been been nominated for a Best Rap Album Grammy for his 2018 ‘Victory Lap’ album.

Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told jurors that they would hear from at least two witnesses that Hussle and Holder’s initial conversation involved the two members of the Rollin’ 60s gang discussing “something to do with snitching”.

McKinney said that Holder exited the initial meeting with his female friend at the helm of a 2016 White Chevrolet Cruze, ate some chili cheese fries, told the friend to wait for him in a nearby parking lot and then stalked back to Marathon with a black semiautomatic handgun in one hand and a smaller silver revolver in the other.

The prosecutor played black-and-white video of the shooting twice, once at a slower speed.

Nipsey Hussle in 2018
Nipsey Hussle in 2018. CREDIT: Prince Williams/Wireimage

McKinney told the jury: “Mr. Holder walks between two parked cars where the gentlemen are, and he starts shooting. If you look closely, you can at one point see him shoot from the left hand and the right hand. You’ll see him retreat back after a few shots, and then he goes back and he shoots some more, and he retreats back, and then he goes back, and he shoots even more.

“The only thing that was said prior to the shooting was [when] Eric was walking in between the two cars, looking at Nipsey and saying, ‘You’re through.’ And Nipsey, after being shot, responding, ‘You got me,’” McKinney said, telling the jury that his office charged “not just murder but premeditated and deliberate murder”.

“You’re going to hear and see evidence that he had plenty of opportunity to think about what he was going to do before he did it,” the prosecutor said. “From the time he got out of the car and all the way back to that strip mall and walked up to those gentlemen and started shooting and shooting and shooting.”

He also highlighted the moment that Holder ran from the scene, stood over Hussle’s body crumpled and appeared to kick him in the head. “I think you will find by that kick to the head at the end that it was a very personal attack,” McKinney said.

Hussle was shot at least 10 times including by a bullet that severed his spinal cord, McKinney added. “He was shot literally from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. Three different bullets perforated his lungs. One transected his spine, so even if he survived, he would have been paraplegic.”

Holder has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder for the bullets that struck Lathan and Villanueva, two counts of assault with a firearm, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.

The defendant faces a possible life sentence if convicted as charged.

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