LOS ANGELES — A judge issued a warrant Thursday for rapper Nipsey Hussle’s murder witness for failing to testify at the trial of a man accused of murder, and in his absence, a police detective testified about the unwillingness of witnesses that marked the case.
Evan “Rimpow” McKenzie, a close friend of Hussle who carried the coffin at his funeral and stood by him when he was shot, repeatedly ignored subpoenas directing him to appear and testify for the prosecution, resulting in Judge H. Clay Jack II issuance of a court order with bail of $500,000.
“Mr. McKenzie, did he express an unwillingness to testify? Aaron Jansen, an attorney for the defendant Eric Holder, asked LAPD Detective Cedric Washington, who replied that Mackenzie spoke about it in telephone conversations.
The “snitching” taboo permeated the trial of Holder, who is charged with first-degree murder in connection with Hussle’s 2019 death and attempted murder after two bystanders were shot at.
It was a conversation between Holder and Hussle on the subject, in which Hussle told Holder that there were rumors of “documents” suggesting that he had spoken to the authorities, which prosecutors believe was Holder’s motive to return in a few minutes to shoot Hussle.
The shooting took place in a predominantly black area of South Los Angeles, where both the men and most of the witnesses grew up, and where distrust of the police and the courts is deeply rooted. Even Hussle’s friends and fans, as well as the people who had been shot by Holder, were reluctant to speak in public.
“I don’t know anything, I don’t see anything,” said Kerry Lathan, who was injured in the shootout, speaking on the podium last week, refusing to identify himself in the security video that was shown to the jury. He then declined to name Holder as the shooter.
“You don’t want to testify about what happened?” asked Deputy District Attorney John McKinney.
“True,” Latan replied.
On Thursday, Jansen tried to link Holder and Hussle’s doubts to the Rollin’ ’60s street gang.
“Is there usually a reluctance to testify in gang cases?” Jansen asked.
“I would not limit myself to gang affairs,” Washington replied.
“I’m asking about gang business,” Jansen said.
“I believe this is common, yes,” Washington said.
Jansen continued, “Several of the witnesses in this case said they didn’t want to go to court and they felt their families would be in danger, right?”
Washington admitted that they were.
In response to additional questions from prosecutors, Washington downplayed the role of the gang.
“I’ve handled a lot of cases outside of gang cases. I found that most people don’t want to go to court or talk to law enforcement,” Washington said. “Everyone seems to think that if they go to court, they will be punished.”
“Were there any threats against witnesses in this case who accused them of denunciations?” McKinney asked. “Are you aware of any harm done to anyone in this case for being a witness or talking to the police?”
Washington answered “no” to both questions, admitting that an anonymous caller to Bryanita Nicholson threatened her last week.
Nicholson, who was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony, kept her identity hidden when she testified before a grand jury in 2019.
Last week, after her identity was revealed but before she spoke, she received a phone call.
“A male voice was heard saying something like, ‘You killed Nipsey Hussle,’” Washington said. Brianita hung up.
McKinney emphasized that the threat was not about her testifying, but about her role in Hussle’s death.
Nicholson was heavily guarded and was escorted through a special entrance this week for two days of testimony, during which she appeared to speak fluently and confidently without resistance.
Others were much more hesitant and silent in the stands, although Holder was identified by several eyewitnesses as the shooter, so it is unlikely that the absence and silence of other witnesses would do much damage to a powerful prosecution.
The defense admitted that Holder shot Hussle, but says it was not intentional and he is not guilty of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors have one more witness before they finish their case, and the jury can get it soon.
“Unless Rimpau is taken away,” McKinney said after the trial.