One of the two men injured when Nipsey Hussle was brutally executed in a South Los Angeles parking lot three years ago testified Monday that once the hail of gunfire ended, he heard what likely were the celebrated rapper’s last words.
“He shot me. He shot me,” Hussle said as he lay bleeding on the ground outside his Marathon clothing store after the shooter fled the scene, witness Shermi Villanueva, 47, told jurors.
Villanueva said he and his uncle, Kerry Lathan, had been talking to Hussle while standing between two parked cars seconds before their assailant – identified by prosecutors as Eric Holder Jr. – walked up and started firing. “I heard it, and then I saw Nipsey fall,” Villaneuva said, referring to the volley of shots. “When I looked and saw Nipsey, I started to run.”
Villanueva, who said he works in the “medical field,” described feeling something strike his belt buckle. He later noticed bleeding but ultimately declined a request from paramedics that he went to the hospital for treatment that day, he said.
During his opening statement last week, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney warned jurors that getting Villanueva to open up about the incident was “going to be a challenge.” McKinney said Villanueva grew up in the South Los Angeles community where the shooting took place, an area where the Rollin’ 60s gang discourages people from cooperating with law enforcement of any kind.
Indeed, Villanueva’s testimony was so soft-spoken and stilted, it was difficult to hear at times. He refrained from characterizing his reactions and gave very dry, mostly yes or no answers. Asked by Holder’s defense lawyer, Aaron Jansen, what happened when he turned and saw his uncle also on the ground with a bullet wound, Villanueva sounded clinical.
“He was like, ‘I’m shot too.’ We were paying attention to Nipsey, and he was like, ‘I’m shot also,’” Villanueva testified. “I told him, ‘Don’t move,’ because he said he was shot in his back, and it was possible he could have a spinal injury.”
Villanueva said he never heard the shooter utter any words before he opened fire. He had no sense anyone was in danger leading up to the deadly attack, he tested.
Holder, 32, has pleaded not guilty to one count of pre-meditated murder for the slaying of Hussle and two counts of first-degree attempted murder for the injuries to Villanueva and Lathan. Jansen said in his opening statement that Holder attacked “in the heat of passion,” meaning his actions weren’t pre-meditated.
Prosecutors claim Holder fired at least 10 rounds into Hussle from a black semiautomatic handgun in one hand and a smaller silver revolver in the other, killing the 33-year-old posthumous Grammy winner near the intersection of Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard on March 31, 2019.
Ingrid Caston also tested Monday, recalling how she was sitting in the driver’s side of a parked Audi, eating some food, when the shooting unfolded just feet away.
“I heard shots, and it sounded like fireworks. I said to the lady in the car with me, ‘Are those fireworks?’” she recalled. “Everybody started scattering, and a few people ran. Nipsey, I saw him fall.”
Caston said she saw the shooter and believed it was the same man she’d seen earlier in the parking lot walking around without a shirt. She heard “more than seven” shots. “I was so focused. I’m watching in disbelief, and then afterwards when he finished, he kicked him and after he ran right by me. I was shocked, looking. That’s how it happened.”
Bryannita Nicholson, 35, took the witness stand Monday afternoon and tested that she acted as Holder’s unwitting getaway driver the day of the slaying.
The home healthcare aide said she met Holder while working as a Lyft driver and started hanging out with him during the weeks before the shooting in what she described as a casual dating relationship with no strings attached. She said the day of Hussle’s death, Holder directed her to The Marathon store’s parking lot and engaged the celebrated musician in a conversation about “snitching.”
“Did you say I snitched?” Holder asked Hussle, according to her testimony.
“It didn’t sound like he was mad,” she told jurors, describing Holder’s voice as “loud” but not “aggressive.”
Nicholson said Hussle posed for a photo with her, and a short time later, she and Holder drove around the block. She said Holder started loading bullets into a black semiautomatic gun while seated in her car. She asked him to put the gun away, and he did, she tested. A short time later, as they were parked in a nearby alley so Holder could eat his chili cheese fries, Holder jumped out of the car and told her not to leave until he returned, she said. She watched as Holder turned a corner back toward Hussle’s store and then heard multiple gunshots, she tested. Holder then reappeared and told her to drive with a “stern” voice, she said.
“I was like, ‘What happened?’ He was like, ‘Drive!’ [He said] I talk too much. He was like he was going to slap me,” she tested.
Nicholson said she drove Holder back to Long Beach and didn’t hear that Hussle had been killed until later that night.
During his opening statement, McKinney described Nicholson as naïve.
The judge overseeing the trial ended cut Nicholson’s testimony short early Monday because the air conditioning in the packed courtroom wasn’t working. A technician who arrived to fix the problem said the room had topped 82 degrees.
McKinney tells RollingStone he expects to conclude his evidence portion of the case by the end of the week, ahead of schedule.