Fri. Mar 24th, 2023

Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York Times

Bryannita Nicholson, who had been casually seeing the defendant, Eric R. Holder Jr., testified that she had driven him to and from the scene of the shooting, providing one of the prosecution’s key accounts of the episode.

The day of the shooting had started unremarkably, she testified. She and Mr. Holder had met a little more than a month earlier, when she was driving part-time for Lyft and picked him up as a fare. In the weeks that followed, she said, they grew closer, and she would often drive Mr. Holder during outings in Long Beach or Los Angeles, to the beach, to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Their relationship was casual, she said.

On the day of the shooting, Ms. Nicholson testified, the pair were headed to a nearby swap meet. Ms. Nicholson was given immunity from prosecution for her testimony.

When Ms. Nicholson pulled into a shopping plaza that day so that Mr. Holder could buy chili cheese fries, she said, she spotted Nipsey Hussle standing outside his store, Marathon clothing. She remarked to Mr. Holder that she thought Hussle was handsome, and that she wanted to get a picture with him. Mr. Holder did not indicate that he knew the rapper from the neighborhood, she testified.

She approached Hussle, who was surrounded by a group of men, to get a selfie, she testified. It would be the last photograph of the rapper.

Some witnesses have testified that Hussle had warned Mr. Holder there were rumors circulating that he had cooperated with law enforcement, or snitched. Ms. Nicholson testified that she had heard Mr. Holder ask Hussle if he had snitched, but that Hussle seemed to be brushing him off. She said she returned to the car and pulled into a nearby alley so Mr. Holder could eat, she said.

Mr. Holder then pulled out a handgun, which Ms. Nicholson testified alarmed her, but she had previously said she believed he had guns for protection.

Mr. Holder then got out of the car and left his fries on the hood of a nearby truck, she said. A short time later, Ms. Nicholson said, she heard gunshots.

When Mr. Holder got back into her car, she testified, he told her to drive or he would slap her. She testified that she did not realize at that point that he might have been the shooter. That night, she testified, she agreed to let Mr. Holder stay at her mother’s home with her, and she later helped him check into a motel using her identification.

It wasn’t until more than a day after the killing, when her mother recognized Ms. Nicholson’s white Chevy Cruze on the news, that she realized that Mr. Holder might have been involved, she testified.

“I hoped he didn’t have something to do with it,” Ms. Nicholson told John McKinney, the prosecutor in the case, during her testimony. “I was a nervous wreck at the time.”

In his opening statement, Mr. McKinney had portrayed Ms. Nicholson as a kind of unwitting accomplice.

“When Ms. Nicholson testifies, pay attention to her,” he said. “I think you’ll find in her a naïveté, a simplicity.”

Mr. McKinney emphasized that Ms. Nicholson had quickly agreed to cooperate with the police. She allowed the authorities to access data from her phone and she submitted to hours of interviews.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is my reputation, too,’” she testified in court.

Aaron Jansen, Mr. Holder’s public defender, asked Ms. Nicholson about some minor discrepancies between her earlier accounts and ones she gave on the stand: the color of a truck where Mr. Holder left his fries, whether Hussle had told Mr. Holder “to, like, chill.” (Ms. Nicholson responded that Hussle’s demeanor had been “chill,” and said that he had not instructed Mr. Holder to calm down.)

On the witness stand, Ms. Nicholson mostly answered questions with a calm “yes,” or “I don’t know.” Mr. Holder, who wore a gray suit with a faint windowpane pattern, mostly avoided her eyes or looked at her dispassionately.

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