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Nipsey Hussle shooting: O.J. Simpson prosecutor’s new legal drama defending suspect

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Christopher Darden, center, with lead prosecutor Marcia Clark and defense attorney Johnnie Cochran during O.J. Simpson’s murder trial in Los Angeles in 1995.
(Los Angeles Times)

Christopher Darden, who two decades ago helped prosecute O.J. Simpson on murder charges in the “trial of the century,” has just stepped into another high-profile celebrity homicide case.

This time, he’s the defense attorney, representing the man charged with killing rapper Nipsey Hussle.

Eric Holder, 29, was charged in L.A. County Superior Court on Thursday with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon in Hussle’s shooting death Sunday.

FULL COVERAGE: Nipsey Hussle gunned down in South L.A. »

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Eric Holder, left, and his attorney Christopher Darden in court on Thursday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Who is Christopher Darden?

Darden became an international name during the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson, who was accused of stabbing to death his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman. Darden and Marcia Clark were the main prosecutors, going up against a “Dream team” of defense lawyers led by Johnnie Cochran.

During the trial, Darden and Cochran clashed often in vitriolic and sometimes personal exchanges, particularly on issues of race, The Times reported in 1995.

Cochran and others have criticized Darden, who is black, for being part of a prosecution team that for a time defended the reputation of Mark Fuhrman, a white LAPD detective key to the case who was later exposed as a racist. Prosecutors ultimately repudiated Fuhrman, and Darden maintained that the former detective’s views on race did not erase all the evidence against Simpson. The former football star was acquitted.

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Darden wrote a book after the trial, “In Contempt,” in which he criticized Cochran for inflaming racial passions in the trial.

“As a young man, racism seemed to me a single-edged knife, one that whites used to hold blacks down,” he wrote. “Now I see that our own racism can be as dangerous and insidious as that which we have battled for centuries.”

Darden has been outspoken in his feelings about Simpson. When Simpson was released from prison in 2017, Darden was blunt to the New York Daily News

“I wouldn’t want him living next to me,” he said. “I don’t know who would want to live next to a guy they believe or think might be a double murderer. It has to be worse than living next to a pedophile,” Darden said.

In recent years, Darden has made a mark as a defense attorney.

RELATED: O.J. Simpson prosecutor’s new legal drama: Defending Nipsey Hussle slaying suspect »

What is the evidence that we know of?

Police allege Holden got into a dispute with Hussle on Sunday at the rapper’s West Slauson Avenue store.

Holden allegedly returned with a gun and opened fire. Hussle was killed and two other people were hurt.

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Police say there are several videos showing the attack.

Graphic video from a surveillance camera shows a gunman walking up to Hussle and two other men in front of the shop. The gunman fires and Hussle falls to the ground as the other men run away.

How does Darden mount a defense?

Dmitry Gorin, a former L.A. County deputy district attorney, said “the defense will have a challenge in rebutting both the video and eyewitness testimony showing the suspect returned with a weapon after his dispute with Hussle.”

One possible argument is that the shooting resulted from the “heat of passion” or a “provocation,” which might open the door to a reduced charge of manslaughter, and allow Holder to avoid a life sentence.

“The video evidence appears devastating to the defense,” Gorin said, explaining that the video of the shooting indicates intention and callousness. ”Arguing for manslaughter to a jury because Holder felt disrespected will be tough.”

Louis Shapiro, a prominent defense attorney, agreed.

“It’s very hard to overcome video surveillance evidence,” he said.

“Darden is only left with with imperfect self-defense to try for manslaughter, but would need evidence ... to prove that Holder felt that he was going to be attacked and harmed by Nipsey,” Shapiro said. “It is a major uphill battle for him.”

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