Rap artist Snoop Doggy Dogg and his bodyguard followed, taunted and gunned down a gang member at a Palms park in 1993 and tried to explain away their actions as self-defense, prosecutors told jurors as the rapper's murder trial began Monday.
"The prosecution will show that pursuit, pressure and posturing of these two defendants culminated with the death of Philip Woldemariam," Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace told the eight-man, four-woman panel during opening statements.
Co-prosecutor Ed Nison added: "The evidence of self-defense in this case is contrived. It is made up after the fact. It is an effort to excuse behavior."
Prosecutors allege that the rapper, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, and former bodyguard McKinley Lee went looking for Woldemariam on Aug. 25, 1993, after a dispute outside the rapper's Los Angeles apartment.
"The shooting was a result of a street mentality: 'Someone does something to you, you have to do something back to them,' " Nison said.
Nison told jurors that Lee and Broadus found Woldemariam hanging out and eating takeout Mexican food with two friends at Woodbine Park. Lee, who was in the passenger's seat of Broadus' Jeep, waved the man over to the vehicle, the prosecution said. They exchanged words, Lee pulled a gun and Woldemariam was shot twice as he tried to flee, Nison said.
Projecting an autopsy photo of the mortally wounded Woldemariam on a giant overhead screen, Nison said: "A picture is worth a thousand words."
Defense attorneys sought to depict Woldemariam as a gun-toting gangster who believed that his territory and prestige were threatened when Broadus moved into the neighborhood.
"I believe the evidence will show that Lee and Broadus were not the aggressors," said attorney David Kenner, who addressed jurors late Monday after prosecutors finished their remarks. "Philip Woldemariam--or Little Smooth as he was known by gang members--was the aggressor."
The defense claims that Woldemariam was going for a gun that was tucked in his waistband behind his back when Lee fired the fatal shots in self-defense.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Woldemariam was affiliated with a gang. But, Nison said, "there is no credible evidence to establish that Philip had a gun out at the time he was shot."
In an effort to take some of the sting out of a defense contention that the Los Angeles Police Department incompetently handled the case, Nison told jurors that police inadvertently destroyed the victim's clothing and other evidence, including bullets and shell casings.
Members of the racially diverse jury--which includes six blacks, four whites and two Latinos--rolled their eyes and shook their heads. Nison warned them not to rush to judgment.
"When all is said and done, the evidence that you rely on will show that they are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill," Nison said.
He added: "Regardless of what you think of Philip Woldemariam. Regardless of what you think of the Los Angeles Police Department . . . defendant Broadus--Snoop Doggy Dogg--and the rest of the people at the park went looking for a fight."