Nipsey Hussle’s admitted killer is claiming jurors delivered a contradictory verdict back in July, so he’s filing a new motion asking that his premeditated murder conviction be reduced to voluntary manslaughter, his defense lawyer tells Rolling Stone.
Eric Ronald Holder Jr., 33, appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom Thursday for what was supposed to be his sentencing for the stunning daylight ambush that claimed the life of the Grammy-winning rapper on March 31, 2019. As Holder Jr. sat quietly in his jail uniform at the defense table, his lawyer Aaron Jansen asked to return to court Dec. 1 to argue an unspecified motion ahead of a new sentencing pushed to Dec. 19.
More from Rolling Stone
After the hearing, Jansen said the motion will argue that jurors returned an “inconsistent” verdict by accepting his “heat of passion” defense with respect to the two surviving victims in the case but rejecting it when it came to Hussle.
During the harrowing trial last summer, prosecutors argued that Holder Jr. committed classic premeditated murder when he opened fire on Hussle with a black semiautomatic in one hand and a silver revolver in the other after the two men had a conversation in the parking lot outside Hussle’s South Los Angeles clothing store about 10 minutes prior. Jansen argued that his client acted in the “heat of passion” after he believed Hussle had accused him of being a “snitch.”
The jurors ultimately agreed with prosecutors and convicted Holder Jr. of murder. But when it came to the two other men wounded in the shooting — Kerry Lathan and Shermi Villanueva — jurors rejected prosecutors’ attempted murder charges and convicted Holder Jr. of attempted voluntary manslaughter instead. (Jurors could have gone with a third option, assault with a firearm, but did not.)
According to Jansen, the mixed verdict doesn’t make sense, because for jurors to find his client guilty of attempted voluntary manslaughter, they had to accept that he acted in the heat of passion. And if Holder Jr. acted in the heat of passion when he shot Lathan and Villanueva, Jansen argued, that state of mind should apply to Hussle as well. (Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, was standing next to Lathan and Villanueva between two cars when Holder Jr. started firing.)
“If heat of passion worked for the other two gentleman, then why did it not work for Mr. Asghedom? It was one heat of passion. It wasn’t like the other two gentleman had their own separate provocation with no cooling-off period. It was all one event,” Jansen said after the hearing. “If he was provoked and didn’t have time to cool off for the other two guys, how did he have time to cool off with Nipsey Hussle?”
The defense motion will be a longshot, to be sure. But if it succeeds, it could have a huge impact on Holder Jr.’s fate. As it stands, Holder Jr. is facing 50 years to life in prison for his murder and personal use of a firearm convictions. If the judge agrees to downgrade the verdict, it could shave decades off his sentence.
“It’s still a lot of time, but at least he would have a chance at a life afterward,” Jansen told Rolling Stone.
Deputy District Attorney John McKinney did not respond to a request for comment on the planned defense motion.
In his closing argument during Holder Jr.’s trial, McKinney called Hussle “a favorite son” of South Los Angeles who transcended the “pockets of concentrated poverty” and perils of gang life gripping his Hyde Park neighborhood to become an acclaimed recording artist, visionary entrepreneur, and noted philanthropist.
“The streets he used to run as a young man became the life material that he used to become a voice of those same streets. While some people get successful, they make money, they leave their neighborhood, they change their address, this man was different. He wanted to change the neighborhood. He invested in the neighborhood. He kept the same friends and the neighborhood loved him. They called him Neighborhood Nip,” McKinney said.
“He was a father, he was a son, he was a brother, he was a human being,” the prosecutors said, showing jurors a photo of Hussle crouching down to take a photo with a young child just moments before his death.
Shortly after the trial started June 15, Jansen conceded his client fired the 10 or 11 bullets that struck Hussle from the top of his head down to his feet, ripping through his liver and lungs and severing his spine. But the lawyer was adamant Holder Jr. acted in the heat of passion after Hussle allegedly mentioned he heard there was “paperwork” on Holder. In gang parlance, “paperwork” means documentation showing someone is cooperating with law enforcement. Jansen said his client considered the allegation a “snitch jacket” that threatened his life.
Holder Jr., like Hussle, joined the Rollin’ 60s Neighborhood Crips as a teen, but by 2019, he had moved to Long Beach, started working at a restaurant, and put his gang membership “in the rearview mirror,” Jansen told jurors. When Holder Jr. happened upon Hussle the day of the shooting, it was a chance encounter, the lawyer said.
“Think about Eric’s state of mind at this point. ‘I just came over to say hello, haven’t been around for a while. I’m just waiting for [a food] order to be ready. I’m not involved in that lifestyle anymore. And the famous — the great — Nipsey Hussle is saying that they have paperwork on me,'” Jansen said, arguing that the “provocation” triggered “rage and powerful emotions” in his client that ran out of control. Jansen said his client, who was beaten up and slashed with a razor by fellow inmates amid the high-profile trial, was willing to “take responsibility for his actions” and admit to voluntary manslaughter.
McKinney, meanwhile, scoffed at the suggestion Hussle provoked his own slaying with the mention of “paperwork.” He said the people who witnessed the “paperwork” conversation — including Hussle’s close friend Herman “Cowboy” Douglas and Holder’s friend turned unwitting getaway driver, Bryannita Nicholson — described the parking lot exchange as short and civil, nothing that raised a specter of imminent danger.
“It wasn’t hostile. It didn’t look like a fight was about to happen. No one was agitated,” McKinney said in his closing.
According to McKinney, Holder Jr. “had plenty of time” to reflect and “cool down.” He said in the 10 minutes between the initial parking lot conversation and the shooting, Holder Jr. rode around the block in Nicholson’s car one and a half times, loaded bullets in the magazine of his semiautomatic, ate some chili cheese fries, donned a shirt, ordered Nicholson to wait for him in an alley, stalked back to the parking lot wielding two loaded guns, and unleashed his surprise attack. “There’s plenty of evidence of premeditation and deliberation,” McKinney argued. And either way, “a cold, calculated decision to kill can be reached quickly,” he said.
“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,” McKinney told the jury. “Here you have Nipsey Hussle, who is a successful artist from the same neighborhood, [and] Mr. Holder, who is an unsuccessful rap artist.”
Hussle was a mixtape veteran on a clear upward trajectory when his life was cut short at the age of 33. A month before he died, he attended the 2019 Grammys with his daughter Emani and girlfriend Lauren London, in support of his debut studio album, Victory Lap, which was nominated for best rap album. A year later, he was awarded two posthumous Grammys for his performances of “Racks in the Middle,” and the uplifting track “Higher,” a collaboration with DJ Khaled and John Legend.
London, who welcomed a son with Hussle, told mourners at the rapper’s Staples Center memorial that she’d “never felt this type of pain before.” She then read a heartfelt text message that she’d sent to Hussle two months prior. “I want you to know I feel real joy in my heart when I’m around you,” the message read. “I feel safe around you … Protected. Like a shield over me when you’re around.”
Best of Rolling Stone