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Witnesses drag feet at trial of man accused of shooting rapper Nipsey Hussle

Rapper Nipsey Hussle attends an NBA basketball game in 2018 (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
Rapper Nipsey Hussle attends an NBA basketball game in 2018 (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

A warrant has been issued for an eyewitness to the murder of rapper Nipsey Hussle – after they failed to appear to give evidence at the trial of the alleged gunman.

Evan “Rimpau” MacKenzie, a close friend of Hussle’s who was a pallbearer at his funeral and standing next to him when he was shot, has repeatedly ignored subpoenas ordering him to appear and give evidence for the prosecution.

It has resulted in judge H. Clay Jacke II issuing the bench warrant with a 500,000 dollar (£407,475) bail.

In Mr MacKenzie’s absence, a police detective gave evidence on the reluctance of witnesses that has marked the case.

“Mr MacKenzie, did he express a reluctance to testify?” Aaron Jansen, lawyer for defendant Eric Holder, asked Los Angeles police detective Cedric Washington, who said Mr MacKenzie had said as much in phone conversations.

Defendant Eric Holder listens during opening statements in his murder trial
Defendant Eric Holder listens during opening statements in his murder trial (Frederick M. Brown/Daily Mail.com/AP)

The taboo against “snitching” has pervaded every part of the trial of Holder, who is charged with first-degree murder after the 2019 death of Hussle and with attempted murder because two bystanders were hit by gunfire.

It was a conversation between Holder and Hussle on the subject — in which Hussle told Holder there were rumours of “paperwork” suggesting he had 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 neighbourhood 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 hurt in the shooting, said from the witness box last week, refusing to identify himself in CCTV video that was played for jurors.

He then declined to identify Holder as the gunman.

“You don’t want to testify about what happened?” deputy district attorney John McKinney asked him.

“That’s right,” Mr Lathan replied.

On Thursday, Mr 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?” Mr Jansen asked.

Deputy district attorney John McKinney speaks in opening statements
Deputy district attorney John McKinney speaks in opening statements (Frederick M. Brown/Daily Mail.com/AP)

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

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

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

Mr 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?”

Mr Washington conceded that there were.

In follow-up questions from prosecutors, Mr 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,” Mr 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?” Mr McKinney asked.

Judge H. Clay Jacke listens during trial
Judge H. Clay Jacke listens during trial (Frederick M. Brown/Daily Mail.com/AP)

“Do you know of any harm that came to anyone in this case for being a witness or talking to police?”

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

Ms Nicholson, who was given immunity in exchange for her evidence, had her identity kept secret when she gave evidence before a grand jury in 2019.

Last week, after her identity was revealed but before she took to the witness box, she received the phone call.

“A male voice was heard saying something to the effect that ‘You had Nipsey Hussle killed,’” Mr Washington said. “Bryannita hung up.”

Mr McKinney emphasised that the threat was not about her giving evidence, but about her role in Hussle’s death.

Ms Nicholson was given extra security, and was escorted through a special entrance for her two days of evidence this week, in which she appeared to speak freely and confidently, showing no reluctance.

Others have been far more hesitant and tight-lipped in the witness box, 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 defence 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,” Mr McKinney said after court.