One of two men injured when Nipsey Hussle was brutally executed in a South Los Angeles parking lot three years ago testified on Monday that once the shooting ended, he heard what were likely the celebrated rapper’s last words. .
“He shot me. He shot me,” Hussle said as he lay bleeding on the floor outside his Marathon clothing store after the gunman fled the scene, witness Shermi Villanueva, 47, told jurors.
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Villanueva said he and his uncle, Kerry Lathan, were talking to Hussle as they stood between two parked cars seconds before their attacker – identified by prosecutors as Eric Holder Jr. – arrive and start shooting. “I heard and then I saw Nipsey fall,” Villaneuva said, referring to the volley of gunfire. “When I looked and saw Nipsey, I started running.”
Villanueva, who said she works in the “medical field”, described feeling something hit her belt buckle. He later noticed bleeding but ended up turning down a request from the paramedics that he go 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 “would 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 police of any kind.
In fact, Villanueva’s testimony was so smooth and stilted that it was sometimes difficult to hear. He refrained from characterizing his reactions and gave very dry answers, mostly yes or no. Asked by Holder’s defense attorney Aaron Jansen about what happened when he turned around and saw his uncle also on the ground with a gunshot wound, Villanueva appeared clinical.
“He was like, ‘I got shot too.’ We were paying attention to Nipsey, and he said, ‘I got shot too,’” Villanueva testified. “I told him, ‘Don’t move,’ because he said he was shot in the back and it was possible he had a spinal injury.”
Villanueva said she never heard the gunman utter a word before opening fire. He had no notion that anyone was in danger before the deadly attack, he testified.
Holder, 32, pleaded not guilty to one count of premeditated murder for Hussle’s murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder for the injuries of Villanueva and Lathan. Jansen said in his opening statement that Holder attacked “in the heat of passion,” meaning his actions were not premeditated.
Prosecutors claim Holder fired at least 10 shots at Hussle from a black semiautomatic weapon 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 Dec. March. 2019
Ingrid Caston also testified on Monday, remembering how she was sitting in the driver’s side of a parked Audi, having some food, when the shooting happened just meters away.
“I heard gunshots and it sounded like fireworks. I said to the lady in the car with me, ‘Is that fireworks?’” she recalled. “Everyone started to spread out and some people ran. Nipsey, I saw him fall.”
Caston said he saw the shooter and believed it was the same man she had seen earlier in the parking lot walking around shirtless. She heard “more than seven” shots. “I was so focused. I’m watching in disbelief, and then when he’s done, he kicks him and then he runs right at me. I was shocked, looking. That’s how it happened.”
Bryannita Nicholson, 35, testified on Monday afternoon and testified that she acted as Holder’s unconscious getaway driver on the day of the murder.
The home health worker said she met Holder while working as a Lyft driver and began dating him during the weeks leading up to the shooting, in what she described as a casual, no-strings affair. She said that on the day of Hussle’s death, Holder walked her to the parking lot of The Marathon store 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 angry,” she told the jurors, describing Holder’s voice as “loud” but not “aggressive.”
Nicholson said that Hussle posed for a photo with her, and a short time later, she and Holder drove around the block. She said Holder began loading bullets into a black semiautomatic weapon while sitting in her car. She asked him to keep the gun, and he did, she testified. A short time later, when they were parked in a nearby alley so Holder could eat his chili fries, Holder jumped out of the car and told her not to leave until he got back, she said. She saw Holder turn the corner back to Hussle’s store and after hearing several gunshots she witnessed. Holder then reappeared and told her to drive in a “stern” voice, she said.
“I was like, ‘What happened?’ He was like, ‘Drive!’ [He said] I speak too much. He looked like he was going to slap me,” she testified.
Nicholson said he took Holder back to Long Beach and did not learn that Hussle had been killed until later that night.
During his opening statement, McKinney described Nicholson as naive.
The judge overseeing the trial ended Nicholson’s testimony short on Monday because the air conditioning in the crowded courtroom was not working. A technician who arrived to fix the problem said the room had reached 82 degrees.
McKinney account Rolling Stone he expects to complete his part of the evidence of the case by the end of the week, ahead of schedule.
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