Witnesses drag feet at Nipsey Hussle shooter trial

A judge issued a warrant on Thursday for an eyewitness Rapper Nipsey Hussle shot dead for failing to appear to testify at the trial of the man accused of the murder and, in his absence, a police detective testified about the reluctance of witnesses who marked the case.

Evan “Rimpau” MacKenzie, a close friend of Hussle’s who carried the coffin at his funeral and was beside him when he was shot, repeatedly ignored subpoenas ordering him to appear and testify for the prosecution, resulting in Judge H. Clay Jacke II issuing the writ of mandamus with $500,000 bond.

“Mr. Mackenzie, did he express reluctance to testify?” Aaron Jansen, attorney for defendant Eric Holder, asked Los Angeles Police Detective Cedric Washington, who replied that MacKenzie had said this in phone conversations.

The taboo against “snitching” permeated all parts of the trial of Holder, charged with first-degree murder in Hussle’s 2019 death and attempted murder because two bystanders were shot.

It was a conversation between Holder and Hussle on the matter — in which Hussle told Holder that there were rumors of “paperwork” suggesting he was talking to authorities — that prosecutors consider Holder’s motive for returning minutes later to kill Hussle.

The shooting took place in a predominantly black neighborhood in South Los Angeles, where the men and most witnesses grew up and where distrust of the police and the courts runs deep. Even Hussle’s friends and fans, and people hit by Holder’s gunfire, are reluctant to speak in public.

“I don’t know anything, I don’t see anything,” said Kerry Lathan, who was wounded in the shooting, on the bench last week, refusing to identify himself in the surveillance video that was shown to jurors. He then refused to identify Holder as the shooter.

“Don’t you want to testify about what happened?” Deputy District Attorney John McKinney asked him.

“That’s right,” Lathan replied.

On Thursday, Jansen sought to attribute the hesitation to Holder and Hussle’s ties to the Rollin’ 60s street gang.

“Usually in gang cases is there reluctance to testify?” asked Jansen.

“I wouldn’t limit it to gang cases,” Washington replied.

“I’m asking about gang cases,” Jansen said.

“I believe it is common, yes,” Washington said.

Jansen continued, “Several witnesses in this case said they didn’t want to go to court and felt their families would be in danger, right?”

Washington admitted that there was.

In later questions from prosecutors, Washington played down the gang aspect.

“I’ve investigated many cases that are outside the scope of gang cases. I’ve found that most people are reluctant to go to court or speak to authorities,” Washington said. “Everyone seems to think that if they come to court, they will be subject to retaliation.”

“Was there any threats to any witnesses in this case who accused them of snitching?” asked McKinney. “Do you know of any harm that happened to anyone in this case from being a witness or talking to the police?”

Washington said no to both questions, acknowledging that there was a threat made last week by an anonymous caller to Bryannita Nicholson, who testified for the prosecution that she had acted as Holder’s unwitting getaway driver.

Nicholson, who received immunity in exchange for his testimony, had his identity kept secret when he testified before a grand jury in 2019.

Last week, after her identity was revealed, but before she testified, she got the call.

“A male voice was heard saying something like ‘You had Nipsey Hussle killed,'” Washington said. “Bryannita hung up.”

McKinney emphasized that the threat was not about her testifying, but about her role in Hussle’s death.

Nicholson was given extra security and escorted by a special entrance to her two-day deposition this week, in which she appeared to speak freely and confidently without reluctance.

Others were much more hesitant and silent in their testimony, although several eyewitnesses identified Holder as the shooter, making it unlikely that the absence and silence of other witnesses will do much damage to a powerful prosecution case.

The defense acknowledged that Holder shot Hussle, but says there was no premeditation and that he is not guilty of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors only have one more witness before closing the case, and the jury may have one soon.

“Unless Rimpau gets caught,” McKinney said after court.

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