Nipsey Hussle was brutally murdered outside his Los Angeles clothing store three years ago because the admitted shooter, his onetime friend Eric Ronald Jr., harbored bitter resentment over the beloved rapper’s worldwide fame in an industry where Holder had failed, a prosecutor told jurors in his closing argument Thursday.
The prosecutor said Holder, 32, was from the same neighborhood as Hussle, had been part of the same Rollin’ 60s street gang that both men joined in their youth, and was motivated by profound envy — not a “snitching” allegation — when he left an initial parking lot conversation with Hussle, drove around the block, loaded a gun, ate some chili cheese fries, asked his unwitting getaway driver to wait in an alley, put a shirt on, stalked back to Hussle’s store, and opened fire with a semiautomatic in one hand and a silver revolver in the other.
“I submit to you that the motive for killing Nipsey Hussle had little or nothing to do with the conversation they had; there’s already a pre-existing jealousy,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told the jury.
“When he walked up to the group, he said, ‘You’re through,’ to Nipsey Hussle. ‘You’re through.’ He didn’t say, ‘I’m not a snitch.’ He didn’t say, ‘Why are you talking about me?’ He didn’t say, ‘Why are you hating on me?’ He said, ‘You’re through,’” McKinney argued before defense lawyer Aaron Jansen had his turn to deliver his dueling theory of the case.
“I don’t think I’m overstating this or overthinking it. When you say, ‘You’re through’ to somebody, that seems like a broader kind of rejection of the person,” McKinney said. “Here you have Nipsey Hussle, who is a successful artist from the same neighborhood, [and] Mr. Holder, who is an unsuccessful rap artist.”
He described Hussle as “obviously beloved,” holding court in the parking lot of his popular clothing store, The Marathon, when Holder happened upon him by chance while driving through the neighborhood with a female friend.
“Everybody is taking pictures with him,” he said of Hussle. Even “the girl who brought [Holder] to the parking lot is excited to see him.”
Jansen objected to the mention of “jealousy” seconds after McKinney raised it as the motive. He said it assumed “facts not in evidence.” The judge overruled him.
The debate over what fueled Holder to execute Hussle in broad daylight as he stood amid a group of people has been at the center of the high-profile trial that started with opening statements on June 15.
Holder has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder related to two other men allegedly struck by his bullets, two counts of assault with a firearm, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. If convicted as charged, he faces a possible life sentence.
Faced with a mountain of surveillance video, photos, and eyewitness testimony, Holder does not dispute he shot and killed Hussle. Instead, his defense hinges on the contention he acted in “the heat of passion,” meaning his actions were provoked by an allegation of “snitching” and carried out rashly. Jansen said during his opening statement jurors should reduce the charge to voluntary manslaughter.
“This case was never going to be a whodunnit,” McKinney said Thursday. He urged jurors to reject the defense position that Hussle provoked Holder’s “emotional” response when he mentioned “paperwork” in the context of a rumor that claimed Holder had cooperated with law enforcement — a serious offense in gang culture.
“Everybody agrees it was kind of a normal, casual conversation. It wasn’t hostile. It didn’t look like a fight was about to happen. No one was agitated,” McKinney said.
He further argued that jurors should find Holder guilty of the two attempted murder charges related to the two other men injured by the gunfire because Holder intended to kill more than just Hussle.
“Holder went over there, I submit to you, to shoot everyone in that space because he doesn’t know who else might be packing,” McKinney said. “He doesn’t know who’s armed and who’s not armed. So when he goes back, he goes back with not one, but two guns because he doesn’t know what kind of resistance he’s going to face.”
Herman “Cowboy” Douglas, a close friend of Hussle’s and key eyewitness to the “paperwork” conversation who testified during the trial, attended the closing arguments Thursday and turned visibly emotional as McKinney showed video of the brutal murder.
“Nipsey drops first, drops like dead weight. It’s likely the first or second shot was the one that severed his spine, and he is living through being shot over and over…He’s holding his arm up as he’s being shot over and over,” McKinney said as Douglas wiped tears from his eyes.
As Holder was being led out of the courtroom by jail deputies for the lunch break, Douglas addressed him from the back row of the gallery in a loud voice. Sporting a swollen left eye and three staples in the back of his head from an alleged beatdown by fellow inmates that was first reported by Rolling Stone, Holder clearly heard Douglas and looked in his direction.
“Put a steak on that eye. Put a raw steak on that eye,” Douglas said. “Yeah, I’m gonna go eat a steak.”
The Los Angeles jury hearing the murder case is expected to begin deliberating later Thursday after Holder’s defense presents its closing argument.