The killing of an up-and-coming rapper at a crowded, upscale mall was described by a prosecutor as a callous, calculated act by a man who then retrieved his car from a valet and drove around the body.
A defense attorney later countered that the shooting by defendant Aubrey Louis Berry was an act of self-defense after he was threatened by rapper Roderick Anthony Burton II, known as Dolla.
The conflicting accounts came during opening statements on May 4 in the latest trial involving the death of a rapper.
Burton, 21, was considered a protege of Akon and had released two songs with the hip-hop star. He was touring and working on his first studio album at the time of his death.
Burton joined a growing list of slain rappers, including Tupac Shakur in 1996, the Notorious B.I.G. in 1997, Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC in 2002 and Deshaun “Proof” Holton in 2006.
Authorities said bad blood developed between Burton and Berry nearly two weeks earlier, when they scuffled in a strip club in Atlanta, where both lived. It was chance that brought them both to Beverly Center in Los Angeles on May 18, 2009. Both had been eating with friends before the shooting occurred in the valet area of the mall.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace told jurors Berry fired eight shots at Burton and his friends. Burton was hit by four bullets – three in the back – as he tried to run from Berry, Grace said in his opening statement.
After the shooting, Berry got his car and drove around Burton as he was dying, the prosecutor said.
“Roderick was senselessly gunned down by Aubrey Berry in a hail of gunfire,” Grace said.
Defense attorney Howard Price told jurors Burton had threatened Berry and may have been reaching for a gun.
Burton told Berry, “‘Today, you’re going to die,'” Price said in court.
No weapon was recovered on Burton, but Price said his friends had moved the body and didn’t cooperate with arriving officers.
Price said he planned to introduce some of Burton’s lyrics as evidence to show the rapper cultivated a violent image.
Berry, 24, has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He watched quietly Tuesday (May 4) as Grace described the shooting.
At several points, the prosecutor used his hands to simulate a gun and show jurors how witnesses described Berry methodically aiming and firing at Burton and others.
Price later countered that his client was “not a marksman.”
With the jury absent, Superior Court Judge David S. Wesley denied a motion by Price to tell jurors Burton had been arrested in Georgia in 2008 for carrying a concealed weapon.
The judge said the arrest didn’t demonstrate that Burton has a “character trait for violence,” and that Berry didn’t know about the case at the time of the shooting.
The trial was expected to last a week.