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L.A. Times seeks access to grand jury transcripts in Nipsey Hussle murder case

L.A. Times seeks access to grand jury transcripts in Nipsey Hussle murder case
Eric Holder, center, is accused in the fatal shooting of rapper Nipsey Hussle. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

A public defender representing the man accused of killing rapper Nipsey Hussle is seeking to keep transcripts from his grand jury hearing secret until after his trial.

In a motion filed late Thursday, Deputy Public Defender Lowynn Young sought an immediate hearing, arguing that unsealing the transcripts could affect Eric Holder’s right to a fair and impartial trial.

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An attorney for the Los Angeles Times appeared in court Friday to oppose the motion and argue for public access. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry set a hearing for Wednesday to receive a written filing from The Times.

Kelli Sager, an attorney representing The Times, said it’s difficult to imagine anything in the transcript that would interfere with Holder’s ability to get a fair trial.

“We have millions of people in the jury pool and it’s simply not conceivable that … the court would be unable to find 12 jurors who could be fair and impartial,” she said.

In a case with so much publicity, she said, it is important for the public to see what happened and feel confident the process is fair.

“You don’t want the public to wonder whether that case is being treated differently,” she added. “They have to be able to see what’s going on with the process in order to trust the result.”

A 23-member grand jury panel was presented evidence in the killing of Hussle during a three-day hearing that began May 6. The panel returned a six-count indictment charging Holder, 29, with one count of murder, two counts each of attempted murder and assault with a firearm and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. He has pleaded not guilty.

Outside the courtroom, Young said she is seeking to keep the transcripts sealed in large part because the defendant’s attorney is not allowed to be present at grand jury proceedings.

“The rules are more flexible,” Young said. “So things I could’ve objected to at a preliminary hearing — that doesn’t happen at a grand jury indictment.”

She said evidence that would be inadmissible at trial shouldn’t be public — especially at this stage in the case.

The indictment was unsealed May 21. Unless there is an objection, transcripts from a grand jury hearing are made public 10 days after they are provided to the defendant or his attorney.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John McKinney said that Young’s request is “reasonable” but that her concerns could be addressed without sealing the entire transcript.

McKinney said much of what he presented is already in the public domain. Portions of the transcript, though, would “certainly ignite a lot of pretrial conversation and publicity” that could affect future jurors, he said.

“Some things I presented I haven’t heard reported elsewhere,” he told The Times.

People take photos in front of a mural of Nipsey Hussle near his Marathon Clothing store before a funeral procession for the slain rapper. Hussle was shot outside of the South L.A. store in March.
People take photos in front of a mural of Nipsey Hussle near his Marathon Clothing store before a funeral procession for the slain rapper. Hussle was shot outside of the South L.A. store in March. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

State prosecutors don’t usually pursue a grand jury indictment. More often, prosecutors charge suspects in court papers and then lay out their case through witness testimony at a preliminary hearing open to the public. The person accused can present a defense and call his own witnesses. A judge then decides whether there is enough evidence for a trial.

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Grand jury proceedings, however, are secret, and in many cases defendants and their attorneys do not even know they are happening. There is no cross-examination of witnesses.

The transcripts would offer a more detailed glimpse into the prosecution’s case against Holder. Hussle, an influential rapper and activist, was outside his Hyde Park clothing shop when a young man approached and opened fire at close range, killing him and wounding two others.

Police have been tight-lipped about their investigation other than to say that Holder had gotten into a dispute with Hussle earlier on the day he was shot. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said investigators believed the shooting was the result of a “personal matter between the two of them,” but he has not elaborated. Video of the shooting was captured by a nearby security camera.

The March 31 attack reverberated far beyond Hussle’s South Los Angeles neighborhood.

Holder was arrested in Bellflower two days later. An aspiring rapper who went by the moniker Fly Mac, Holder has sung of body bags, “38 gun blasts” and bloody homicides.

He is being held in lieu of $6.5 million bail. If convicted, he faces life in state prison.

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