When hip-hop star Nipsey Hussle was gunned down in the parking lot of his Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles on March 31, 2019, a manhunt ensued, leading to the arrest of Eric Holder, a 32-year-old felon and aspiring rapper.
Hussle, a first-generation son of Eritrean immigrants, emerged from the West Coast hip-hop scene in the mid-2000s. His first studio album, Victory Lap, was released in 2018 to much acclaim, landing at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and eventually leading to two posthumous Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap/Sung Performance a year later. At the time of his death, Hussle had been working to revive the area near Crenshaw and Slauson where he grew up, buying a shopping center that was being turned into a mixed-use residential and commercial center featuring his Marathon Clothing store. He was also very open with the press about his former gang affiliations and his desire to break that cycle for younger people in his old stomping grounds. Before he was shot, he spent about 30 minutes signing autographs and talking to fans in the same block where he first got attention selling his self-produced mixtapes.
For the first time since the pandemic began, and more than three years since the murder, the Los Angeles Criminal Court has set a date for the first hearing in the murder trial on June 2 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in L.A.
Here’s what we know so far:
Why did it take so long for Nipsey Hussle’s murder to go to trial?
The L.A. County grand jury officially indicted Holder in May 2019. The murder trial was originally expected to get started in April 2020, but like many other criminal trials across the country, it was postponed due to COVID-19. Subsequent dates were set both in May 2021 and later in December 2021, but were again delayed, once supposedly because the defendant refused to leave his cell. His attorney, Christopher Darden (yes, that Christopher Darden), also recused himself after he and his family allegedly received death threats.
What’s Eric Holder accused of exactly?
Holder has been charged with shooting at least ten rounds into Hussle. The 33-year-old rapper suffered 11 wounds in total (two of which may have been caused by the same bullet, according to the medical examiner). And according to video footage, a shirtless Holder can be seen firing two different handguns — a black semiautomatic and a silver revolver — at the rapper and bystanders, injuring two. After the gunfire stopped, Holder allegedly kicked Hussle in the head before running away. Right before he supposedly shot the first bullet, a witness claimed Holder said, “You’re through.” That same witness allegedly heard Hussle say, as he fell to the ground, “You got me.”
Two days after the murder, Holder was arrested. He’s now facing six charges, including one count of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder of two bystanders, two counts of assault with a firearm, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.
What was Hussle’s cause of death?
The autopsy confirmed that the rap star died of multiple gunshots to the torso and heart. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the local hospital at 3:55 p.m. Hussle’s brother, Samiel Asghedom, said that Nipsey was still breathing when he arrived on the scene at approximately 3:22 p.m. He attempted CPR with the help of a 911 dispatcher. “He was trying to fight it, trying to gain consciousness, and he was going out,” his brother told the grand jury.
What do we know about Eric Holder?
Based on the charges, we know that Holder is already a convicted felon. He was also a member of the Rollin’ 60s Crips gang, the same gang Hussle once belonged to in the Crenshaw area of L.A. starting when he was just 14. Holder also went by the name Fly Mac and had tried his hand at a music career but never found success.
His public defense attorney, Aaron Jensen, claims that Holder has a history of mental-health issues, including electroshock-therapy treatment. His mother had died a few months before the shooting, and he was supposedly on a high dose of medication before stopping it abruptly and becoming very despondent.
What can we expect to happen at trial?
Holder’s defense attorney has already said that he plans to challenge the two counts of first-degree attempted murder, saying that he did not plan the attack in advance. It’s alleged that Hussle’s appearance at the store was unannounced, suggesting that it would have been nearly impossible for Holder to have known he would be there.
But there is evidence showing that Holder talked with Hussle before leaving to eat chili cheese fries, then returning just six minutes later to allegedly kill Hussle. The question of whether he premeditated that murder in those six minutes will likely become an issue during trial.
Other questions that will likely arise will be about the defendant’s mental state and his previous relationship with the victim.
Did the two men know each other?
Yes. Holder and Hussle did know each other. In fact, the men talked for about four minutes before the shooting, according to video surveillance. Hussle can be seen outside the Crenshaw store talking with friends when Holder approaches. The L.A. Deputy DA John McKinney told the grand jury that Hussle supposedly accused Holder of being a snitch. However, a witness said that Hussle was actually trying to help Holder by letting him know the word on the street. According to Herman Douglas, who worked for Hussle and was present at the shooting, “Nipsey was basically looking out for him, telling him that, you know, ‘I haven’t read it, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but you need to address it.’ That’s what Nipsey was doing.”
In the early years, Hussle became a focus of the LAPD during a time when it was cracking down on gang activity in the city. It wasn’t unusual to see the up-and-comer wearing his gang colors and “Slauson Boy” tattoos, something that caught the attention of the cops at the start of his career. He told NPR the year before his death that he was one of the few in his crew who survived gang life:
“If you check the stats — the murder rates in the years I was a teenager and the incarceration rates in L.A. in my section of the Crenshaw district, of the Rollin’ 60s when I was 14, 15,” he said, “none of my peers survived. None of my peers avoided prison. None of ’em.”
After years of being under the watchful eye of the LAPD (it was no secret the LAPD targeted the rapper’s store and neighborhood as a “hot spot” for crime), Hussle surprised many when he wrote an email to the LAPD that read in part:
“Our goal is to work with the department to help improve communication, relationships and work towards changing the culture and dialogue between the LAPD and the inner city. We want to hear about your new programs and your goals for the department as well as how we can help stop gang violence and help you help kids.”
At the same time Hussle was trying to build a bridge with the police, records obtained by Stop LAPD Spying Coalition revealed that the department was laser-focused on the businesses Hussle was opening and the properties he was redeveloping. People were routinely being questioned, harassed, and even arrested, the report said.
Despite the tension, the LAPD agreed to meet with Hussle and his label Roc Nation, a meeting that would never happen after the rap star was gunned down just one day earlier.
How did Holder get away after the shooting?
Holder allegedly fled with a woman who later turned herself in to the LAPD. She eventually testified to the grand jury that she saw the defendant with both guns and drove him from the scene after the shooting. Minutes before, she posed with Hussle for a selfie. She also claimed Holder threatened to beat her while he was armed with the guns. Two days later, he was arrested at a Motel 6 about 17 miles from the crime scene, in the Bellflower neighborhood.
How long will the trial be?
The trial is expected to last between three and four weeks, including the time it takes to select a jury, and depending on the number of witnesses. There is no word about whether witnesses will be sequestered.
How has Holder pleaded and where is he now?
Holder has pleaded not guilty on all charges. Since arrested, he’s been held at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in L.A. on almost $7 million bond.
If Holder is found guilty, what could happen next?
If the defendant is found guilty he will face sentencing, which will be determined by whether he’s found guilty on one, several, or all charges. He faces life in prison since California does not have the death penalty.
Here’s a link to footage from the pretrial hearing: