LOS ANGELES — A judge issued a warrant Thursday for an eyewitness to the shooting death of rapper Nipsey Hussle for failing to appear to testify at the trial of the man charged in the slaying, and in his absence a police detective testified on the reluctance of witnesses that has marked the case.
Evan “Rimpau” MacKenzie, a close friend of Hussle's who was a pallbearer at his funeral and was standing next to him when he was shot, has repeatedly ignored subpoenas ordering him to appear and testify for the prosecution, resulting in Judge H. Clay Jacke II issuing the bench warrant with $500,000 bail.
“Mr. Mackenzie, did he express a reluctance to testify?” Aaron Jansen, attorney for defendant Eric Holder, asked Los Angeles police Detective Cedric Washington, who answered that MacKenzie had said as much in phone conversations.
The taboo against “snitching” has pervaded every part of the trial of Holder, who is charged with first-degree murder in the 2019 death of Hussle and with attempted murder because two bystanders were struck with gunfire.
It was a conversation between Holder and Hussle on the subject — in which Hussle told Holder there were rumors of “paperwork” suggesting he'd been talking to authorities — that prosecutors peg as Holder's motive for returning minutes later to gun Hussle down.
The shooting took place in a predominately Black South Los Angeles neighborhood where both men and most of the witnesses grew up, and where mistrust of police and courts runs deep. Even Hussle's friends and fans, and people hit by Holder's gunfire, have been reluctant to talk in the public venue.
“I don’t know nothing, don’t see nothing," Kerry Lathan, who was wounded in the shooting, said on the stand last week, refusing to identify himself in surveillance video that was played for jurors. He then declined to identify Holder as the shooter.
“You don’t want to testify about what happened?” Deputy District Attorney John McKinney asked him.
“That's right,” Lathan replied.
On Thursday, Jansen sought to pin the hesitancy on Holder and Hussle's ties to the Rollin' 60s street gang.
“Typically in gang cases is there a reluctance to testify?” Jansen asked.
“I wouldn’t limit it to gang cases," Washington replied.
“I’m asking about gang cases,” Jansen said.
“I do believe it is common, yes," Washington said.
Jansen continued, “Several witnesses in this case have said they did not want to come to court, and they felt that their families would be in danger, right?"
Washington conceded that there were.
In follow-up questions from prosecutors, Washington downplayed the gang aspect.
“I’ve investigated many cases that are outside of the scope of gang cases. I’ve found that a majority of people are reluctant to come to court or talk to law enforcement,” Washington said. “Everybody seems to think that from coming to court, they are going to be subject to retaliation.”
“Has there been any threat to any witness in this case that accused them of snitching?" McKinney asked. "Do you know of any harm that came to anyone in this case for being a witness or talking to police?”
Washington said no to both questions, acknowledging 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 was given immunity in exchange for her testimony, had her identity kept secret when she testified before a grand jury in 2019.
Last week, after her identity was revealed but before she took the stand, she received the phone call.
“A male voice was heard saying something to the effect that ‘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 was escorted through a special entrance for her two days of testimony this week, in which she appeared to speak freely and confidently, showing no reluctance.
Others have been far more hesitant and tight-lipped on the stand, though several eyewitnesses have identified Holder as the shooter, making it unlikely the absence and silence of other witnesses will do much damage to a powerful prosecution case.
The defense has acknowledged that Holder shot Hussle, but says there was no premeditation and he is not guilty of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors have just one more witness before they rest their case, and the jury could have it soon.
“Unless Rimpau gets picked up,” McKinney said after court.