the law

The Biggest Revelations From the Unsealed Nipsey Hussle Murder Case Docs

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Warner Music

On March 31, Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed in front of the clothing store he owned at the intersection of Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. The rapper, philanthropist, and entrepreneur was 33 years old.

On April 2, two days after the shooting, a 29-year-old man named Eric Holder was arrested in connection with Nipsey’s death. Just over a month later, Holder appeared before a grand jury where, over three days, the district attorney’s office presented the evidence against him in the shooting that killed Nipsey and injured two other men. The grand jury returned a six-count indictment. It charged Holder with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault with a firearm, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. Holder has pleaded not guilty and is being held in lieu of $6.5 million bail. If convicted, he faces life in state prison.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times was successful in getting transcripts from the grand jury hearing unsealed. Holder’s public defender argued that the release of transcripts before her client was able to stand trial could bias the jury pool against him, but was overruled.

The 515-page transcripts give a clearer picture of what investigators know about the March 31 shooting. There seems to be a significant amount of surveillance footage from surrounding businesses that shows the shooting itself and captures the movements of an individual identified, by multiple witnesses, as Holder. (In ruling that the transcripts should be unsealed, L.A. County Superior Court judge Robert J. Perry stipulated that prosecutors must keep the video evidence private.) Here are the key things we learned in sifting through the documents.

The Timeline of Events

Beyond the video footage and a modest amount of ballistics work, the case rests largely on the testimony of a woman in her 30s who is identified only as Witness 1, to protect her safety. In a five-hour interview with police in the days following the shooting and over the course of a lengthy grand jury testimony, Witness 1 said that she and Holder had been in a casual dating relationship for about a month when the shooting occurred. While she did not know that Holder was a member of the Rollin’ 60s Crips — the gang with which Nipsey was also associated — she had often seen him handle a black semi-automatic handgun, which Holder said he needed for protection. (Prosecutors are arguing that Holder fired from a similar gun to the one described and a revolver.) She described the events of March 31 as follows:

• On the day of the shooting, Witness 1 drove Holder from near his home to the area around Slauson and Crenshaw to “eat and shop.” He directed her to pull into the parking lot of the strip mall in which Nipsey owned many businesses, saying he wanted to eat at the Master Burger. In the parking lot, Witness 1 noticed Nipsey outside the Marathon clothing store, taking pictures with fans, signing autographs, and talking to friends. She remarked on his presence, but Holder did not respond; he had never indicated to Witness 1 that he knew Nipsey, and did not now. She says he did not seem as if he expected to see Nipsey there.

• Over the course of time when Holder was ordering, picking up, and paying for his food at Master Burger, he made several trips over to where Nipsey was standing and, to Witness 1’s eyes, was having a conversation with him. At some point Witness 1 left her car to approach the men, hoping to take a picture with Nipsey — which she did, and immediately posted to her Facebook account. While she was near the men, she overheard Holder’s conversation with Nipsey. According to her, Holder repeatedly called Nipsey “cuz” and asked him “if he had ever snitched.” By the time she arrived, Nipsey seemed to be over the conversation, and was waving Holder away dismissively. (Other witnesses who were there for the entirety of the conversation say that Nipsey recognized Holder and referred to him by a nickname, “Shitty,” and gave him some big-brotherly advice regarding rumors that Holder had snitched. According to one eyewitness, Nipsey told Holder that while he hadn’t read the paperwork that seemed to suggest Holder had snitched, Holder needed to “address” the allegations with whoever was making them. The conversation, by all accounts, never became heated.)

• As Witness 1 drove Holder away from the strip mall parking lot, she says, Holder did not seem angry or agitated. He did, however, pull out the semi-automatic gun — which she had seen on other occasions but which, she says, she was not aware Holder had on him that day. She says that Holder then directed her to drive around the block in a certain direction, to which she replied that she would not let him “do a drive-by” from her car. From there Witness 1 and Holder went on a short circuit of stops and starts, nominally for him to eat his order of chili-cheese fries from Master Burger, until he directed her to park in a lot between Slauson and 58th Place and stay put while he exited the vehicle. She did, and though her instinct after hearing gunshots was to drive away, she was worried that Holder might have been witness to or the victim of a crime. He quickly returned to her car and demanded she drive off; she says he gave no explanation and threatened to “slap” her if she did not comply.

• Witness 1 went on to testify that Holder refused to discuss the gunshots or his demeanor with her on the drive back, and that he called her “funny style” when she dropped him off. She says that while she became aware later that night of Nipsey’s killing, she had not yet seen or heard anything alleging Holder as the killer. Holder called her and asked if he could stay with her at her mother’s place; Witness 1 obliged. The next morning he asked if he could stay at her apartment while she was at work, and she refused, at which point he convinced her to use her driver’s license to get him a room at a nearby Motel 6. (She did not pay for the room.) While she was at work she saw messages on social media claiming Holder was the one who shot and killed Nipsey. She confronted him with the posts that night at the Motel 6, but he would not address them; she took him to get food, cigarettes, and a phone charger, then returned on her own to her mother’s place.

• That night, Witness 1 saw a description of her car on the news. Her mother called the police, who instructed her to bring her daughter into the station the next morning to talk with detectives. When they arrived on that morning, however, they were told not to “worry about it” and to go home. But Witness 1 returned later that day, when she submitted to the interview with detectives. (The initial mix-up was due to an intra-department miscommunication.)

Other Key Witnesses

Through the examination of Witness 1 and other witnesses, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney attempted to paint a picture of Holder as someone tied — through eyewitness accounts, physical evidence, surveillance footage, and the testimony of someone who spent the day with him — to a killing that was premeditated in a way that would elevate it to first-degree murder. McKinney and his team seemed to present a convincing case: At the end of each examination, the members of the grand jury are given the opportunity to ask their own questions of witnesses, and virtually none were skeptical in nature.

In addition to Witness 1, the grand jury heard testimony from LAPD detectives, the DA’s office, the medical examiner, and two key witnesses:

• Herman Douglas, a 46-year-old Windsor Hills native who does multiple jobs for Nipsey’s businesses and who was present for Nipsey’s conversation with Holder outside of the clothing store on March 31.

• Kerry Lathan, a 56-year-old man who met Nipsey briefly after being released from prison; he was standing next to Nipsey on March 31 and was shot in the lower back, an injury that, for now, confines him to a wheelchair.

Biggest Revelations

Beyond the fundamental story of March 31 and the physical and video evidence tracking Holder’s movements, here are the most interesting bits from the transcript:

• LAPD Detective Cedric Washington gave mostly perfunctory testimony reaffirming Holder’s alleged pattern of behavior on the day of the shooting. However, he also said that during an interview with Kerry Lathan, the latter told him that Nipsey’s last words were directed to the shooter: “You got me,” he’s believed to have said.

• Holder was an aspiring rapper; Witness 1 describes a trip to his cousin’s house to record music, and Douglas says that Holder asked Nipsey if he had heard his latest song while the two talked in the parking lot.

• Both Witness 1 and Lathan were offered immunity in exchange for their testimony, meaning that if they testified truthfully, nothing they said in court could be used to prosecute them. This does not, however, preclude the district attorney’s office from prosecuting either one using evidence that comes from other sources and circumstances. Lathan’s legal situation is particularly complicated. In September 2018, he was released after serving more than 22 years for a murder conviction. Upon his release, Lathan, a former Rollin’ 60s Crip, was gifted a package of new clothing from Nipsey; he met him shortly after to briefly thank him and take a picture. On the day of the shooting, Lathan’s nephew had been ribbing him about his clothes, so Lathan went with his nephew to Nipsey’s store to purchase new ones. Here is where the discrepancies come in: Lathan initially told investigators that he went inside the store, was told they didn’t have the shirt he wanted inside, and then ran into Nipsey on the way out. But on the stand he testified that, because he saw Nipsey in the parking lot, he walked over to talk to him and never entered the store. The reason Lathan lied is because he believed, correctly, that his parole officer would interpret his interaction with Nipsey as a violation of his parole, on the basis that he was not to associate with “known gang members.”

• Lathan says that a fragment of the bullet is near his spine, and that doctors have told him any attempts to remove it come with a strong risk of paralysis. For now he can only take five or six steps without assistance before the left side of his body becomes numb.

• There was some dispute as to whether Witness 1 had, in her initial interview with police in April, claimed that Holder asked her explicitly to be the driver in a drive-by shooting. On the stand she claimed that in the interview, she was merely inferring from his actions that that’s what he wanted. More consequentially, she was asked about a comment she made in April that seemed to suggest that she figured Holder “was going to shoot somebody” when he left her car in the alley.

• Holder was initially represented by Christopher Darden, the man who became a lightning rod of sorts for being the only black member of the team of lawyers prosecuting O.J. Simpson in 1995. Darden dropped out of the case, citing threats made against him and his children.

Nipsey Hussle Murder Case Docs: The Biggest Revelations