LOS ANGELES — Jurors found a 32-year-old man guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday for the 2019 fatal shooting of rapper Nipsey Hussle.
The Los Angeles County jury also found Eric R. Holder Jr. guilty of two counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter instead of two attempted murder counts as prosecutors had sought for two other men who were hit by gunfire at the scene.
Holder was also found guilty of two counts of assault with a firearm on the same men.
Wearing a blue suit and face mask, Holder stood up in the small courtroom next to his lawyer as the verdict was read. He had no visible reaction.
“I am deeply disappointed in the First Degree Murder verdict,” Holder’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Aaron Jansen, said in an email to The Associated Press. “It was always going to be tough given the high-profile circumstances surrounding the case.”
Jansen added that he and Holder were grateful that the jury agreed that the attempted murder counts were overcharged. They plan to appeal the murder conviction, he said.
A jury of nine women and three men deliberated for about six hours over two days before reaching the verdict. Most of their deliberations took place Friday, and they promptly came to their unanimous decision Wednesday, briefly reconvening after a four-day break.
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A pair of typos on the verdict form discovered as the results were read forced jurors to briefly return to deliberations before the outcome could be made official, but they had no bearing on the outcome.
“We are both proud and I am a little relieved that the verdict came in a complete, absolute agreement with the charges that Eric Holder murdered Ermias Asghedom in cold blood,” Deputy District Attorney John McKinney said outside the courtroom. “We hope that today is a day in which the Asghedom family and the friends and fans of Nipsey Hussle around the world will find some measure of closure.”
No relatives of Hussle were in the room when the verdict was read, nor did any attend the trial.
The judge has a wide range of options when he sentences Holder on Sept. 15. The first-degree murder charge alone carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
“Obviously nothing that happened here today can heal the wound, nothing that happened here today can restore Mr. Asghedom to this world, but we hope that there is some resounding peace in the fact that his killer will be in prison likely for the rest of his life,” McKinney said.
The verdict brings an end to a legal saga that has lasted more than three years and a trial that was often delayed because of the pandemic.
Holder and Hussle had known each other for years — they grew up members of the South Los Angeles street gang the Rollin’ 60s — when a chance meeting outside the rapper’s Los Angeles clothing store led to the shooting, and his death.
The evidence against Holder was overwhelming, from eyewitnesses to surveillance cameras from local businesses that captured his arrival, the shooting and his departure.
His attorney did not even deny that he was the shooter but urged jurors to find him guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
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The shooting followed a conversation the two men had about rumors that Holder had been acting as an informant for authorities. Jansen said that being publicly accused of being a “snitch” by a person as prominent as Hussle brought on a “heat of passion” in Holder that made him not guilty of first-degree murder.
“This is a provocation that stirs up rage and powerful emotion,” Jansen told jurors Thursday.
Hussle’s close friend Herman “Cowboy” Douglas, who was standing next to him when he was shot and testified at the trial, said the conversation he heard does not explain the killing for him.
“It feels good to get some closure, but I still need to know why,” Douglas said after the verdict.
McKinney argued during the trial that Holder and everyone else in the conversation that preceded Hussle’s death were so calm that the “snitching” conversation could not have been the primary motive, and that Holder must have had some previous envy or hatred for Hussle.
McKinney told jurors that the nine minutes between the conversation and the shooting allowed more than enough time for the killing to be premeditated, a requirement for first-degree murder.
The jury apparently agreed.
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Hussle, whose legal name is Ermias Asghedom, died at age 33. His nickname was both a play on the name of comedian Nipsey Russell and a nod to the hustle the future hip-hop star showed in making music and selling CDs. He had just released his major-label debut album, which earned him his first Grammy nomination, when he was gunned down.
He was a widely beloved figure in Los Angeles, especially in the South LA area where he grew up and remained after gaining fame, buying property and opening businesses.
“He wanted to change the neighborhood,” McKinney said in his closing argument. “I have kept the same friends. And the neighborhood loved him. They called him Neighborhood Nip.”
Hussle was mourned at a memorial at the arena then known as Staples Center, and celebrated in a performance at the Grammy Awards that included DJ Khaled and John Legend.
It was more than two years after that when the man who shot him would go on trial.
“Today was really about Nipsey Hussle and the legacy that he leaves behind,” McKinney said Wednesday. “This verdict and the story of his life will be talked about for sure at Crenshaw and Slauson, but the meaning of it will carry far beyond those streets.”