‘Preexisting Jealousy’: Closing Arguments in Nipsey Hussle Murder Trial Center on Motive

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.”

McKinney 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.

Holder has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder related to the 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, the debate over what fueled him 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.

“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 extreme “emotional” response when he mentioned “paperwork” in the context of a rumor alleging Holder had somehow cooperated with law enforcement — a serious offense in gang culture.

Holder’s defense hinges on the contention he acted in “the heat of passion,” meaning his “rash” actions were provoked by the allegation of “snitching.” Jansen said during his closing argument that based on the evidence, jurors should reduce the murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.

“We know that people are afraid of being labeled as a snitch,” Jansen argued. “This is a provocation that stirs up rage and powerful emotions, swirling around in the head.” He said that beyond simple anger, Holder also felt intense “frustration” and “humiliation” because Hussle had called him out “in public, in the heart of Rollin’ 60s territory,” causing Holder to “fear” for his life considering “Nipsey Hussle carries a lot of weight.”

“What if he calls you a snitch in a song and names you?” Jansen said, arguing that a “reasonable” person faced with the same set of circumstances might worry about that possibility.

McKinney scoffed at that hypothetical in his final rebuttal. “It’s not like he put an ad in the paper. Or, ‘Imagine he might write a song and put in in a song.’ He didn’t do that. (Defense) counsel is trying to make it into something it never was.”

The prosecutor said that according to people who actually witnessed the conversation, “it wasn’t hostile. It didn’t look like a fight was about to happen. No one was agitated.”

McKinney 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 shooting.

“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 was ordered to return at 9 a.m. Friday to begin their deliberations.

Hussle, whose legal name was Ermias Asghedom, was a fast-rising rapper, father of two and local philanthropist who, a month before his death, attended the 61st Annual Grammy Awards where his major-label debut studio album, Victory Lap, was nominated for best rap album. He received two posthumous Grammys for his songs Racks in the Middle and Higher.

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