Nipsey Hussle was a hip-hop star who sought to raise up his neighborhood with him until a friend from the same streets gunned him down, a prosecutor said in his closing argument Thursday.
"This man was different," Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told jurors, seeking to humanize Hussle after two weeks of testimony that dwelled on the technical details surrounding the 2019 shooting. "He wanted to change the neighborhood. He kept the same friends. And the neighborhood loved him. They called him Neighborhood Nip."
McKinney's presentation came at the trial of Eric R. Holder Jr., who is charged with the first-degree murder of the 33-year-old Hussle, whose legal name was Ermias Asghedom.
Holder's attorney Aaron Jansen has not denied that his client fired the shots that killed Hussle, but said mitigating circumstances make him not guilty of first-degree murder, and he'll likely urge jurors to find him guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Hussle and Holder were both rappers, one successful, one unsuccessful, who grew up as members of the same South Los Angeles gang, McKinney said.
He showed the jurors a photo, taken moments before the shooting, of Hussle crouching down with a toddler wearing a shirt that read "Crenshaw," bought from Hussle's South LA clothing store, The Marathon, that they were standing outside of.
Much of the testimony at the trial dwelled on the conversation about "snitching" that took place between Holder and Hussle before Holder returned with two guns.
A friend of Hussle that heard the whole talk said that Hussle told Holder there were rumors of "paperwork" that suggested Holder was talking to authorities, and that Holder should address it.
McKinney downplayed this apparent motive for the shooting, and said it could not possibly have put Holder in the kind of heated, irrational state that would justify a charge less than first-degree murder.
"This was a conversation between two homies, where one is trying to tell the other one that there's some stuff going around about you that you might want to take care of," McKinney said. "It was in the nature of advice."
McKinney emphasized that no one who observed the conversation thought there was any hostility or imminent danger.
"I submit to you that the motive for killing Nipsey Hussle had little or nothing to do with the conversation they had," McKinney said. "There was already a preexisting jealousy or envy."
There had been no testimony to this effect during the trial, and the defense objected.
The judge let the statement stand, but reminded jurors to focus on the actual evidence from the trial.
McKinney used the extensive surveillance and police body-camera images surrounding the shooting to take the jurors through a minute-by-minute narrative of the day.
He repeatedly showed the video, taken by a camera across a parking lot, of the moment Holder appeared with guns and Hussle collapsed to the ground.
Holder was gone for about 10 minutes before returning and firing. McKinney told jurors that it was plenty of time for premeditation as defined by the law.
"He thought about it and he did it," McKinney said. "That's all premeditated means. It doesn't mean he planned it for weeks."
Holder is also charged with the attempted murder of two men who were struck by the gunfire, and McKinney said it was no accident.
"Nipsey was clearly his intended target," the prosecutor said. "But the evidence shows that he went over there willing and intending to kill everybody in that space or to chase them away."
McKinney said it was because Holder didn't know who else in the group was armed, and he was lucky no one else was.
Holder had no visible reaction to the presentation. He still showed the signs, including swelling around his eyes and staples in the back of his head, of an attack earlier in the week by two of his fellow jail inmates, who punched him and slashed him with a razor for reasons that aren't clear.