Gov. Newsom commutes sentence of Swedish rapper in 2008 road rage killing

Swedish hip-hop artist David Jassy listens as letters from victim John Osnes' sisters were read in court. "I expect you play that evening over and over in your head," one wrote.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Swedish hip-hop artist convicted of murdering a Hollywood jazz pianist in a brutal burst of road rage will be released from prison after Gov. Gavin Newsom commuted his sentence Friday.

At San Quentin State Prison, David Jassy mentored young inmates using what he knew best: rap music. He required that their songs contain no profanity and express meaningful emotions.

Jassy’s Youthful Offender Program Mixtape project drew the attention of reality show star Kim Kardashian West, who has embraced prison reform as a pet cause.


“Thank you @gavinnewsom for granting David Jassy a commutation today! I visited him at San Quentin & saw the music program he ran for youth inside and I know he is going to continue to give back once he is home!” West wrote on Twitter.

Jessica Jackson, cofounder of the prison reform group #cut50, said she and West were among those who lobbied for Jassy’s release after 11 years behind bars.

“So many of them had never had somebody who believed in them, had never been part of something like this,” Jackson said of the young men in Jassy’s Mixtape project. “They were shocked that they had made something of value.”

Jassy, 45, was one of 21 inmates whose sentences were commuted by Newsom on Friday. Newsom also pardoned five felons who have already served their time.

A news release from the governor’s office said the clemency applications were being processed before the COVID-19 pandemic but that public health impacts were considered as well as each inmate’s health status and post-release plans.


“He is a valued member of the music program among his fellow inmates and continues to support and encourage those around him whether through his music or personal conduct,” Jassy’s commutation certificate said, quoting from a sponsor of the program.

In November 2008, Jassy was in Los Angeles to work on a record and write songs when he edged his rented SUV into a crosswalk and almost hit a pedestrian.

John Osnes, 55, who played piano at Hollywood bars and knew 400 jazz standards by heart, brought his hands down on the hood of the SUV and shouted. He did not own a car and was a fierce advocate for the rights of pedestrians.

Jassy punched Osnes and kicked him in the face. “It was like a punter kicking a football,” one witness said.

Jassy then got back into the SUV and drove over Osnes’ body, according to court testimony.

In February 2010, a Los Angeles County jury convicted Jassy of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Some jurors said kicking Osnes crossed the line to murder, but they were not sure if Jassy intentionally ran over Osnes.

“The death of Mr. Osnes was a tragedy he always repented,” Alec Rose, Jassy’s lawyer at the trial, said Saturday. “I hope those who knew him and loved Mr. Osnes are at peace at this point.”


Osnes’ family and friends could not be reached for comment.

On a 2018 episode of Ear Hustle, a podcast about prison life, Jassy said that when he got out, he would immediately fly to Sweden to see his son, who was 11 at the time of the killing.

“It bothers me a lot because I have a lot of guilt for getting into this situation, and to have him growing up without me,” Jassy said.