LOS ANGELES – At 2 a.m., a black BMW rolled past a house the rapper Pop Smoke was renting in the Hollywood Hills.
The driver circled back and stopped. A security camera across the street captured a passenger getting out and sneaking toward the back of the house before returning a minute later. The car sped off.
The budding rap star was a few miles away at a recording studio on Sunset Boulevard. He returned two hours later and again a car pulled up — an Infiniti sedan with its headlights off. This time, four people emerged and slipped into the shadows along the side of the house.
Ten minutes later, three of them ran back into the camera’s frame. The footage showed the fourth walk out the front door holding a purse and a gun.
Inside, the musician lay sprawled at the foot of a staircase, dying from a gunshot wound to the chest.
The death of Pop Smoke, whose real name was Bashar Barakah Jackson, stunned the music world in February of last year. Now, details of the slaying and how detectives tracked his alleged killers have come to light.
In court last week, Los Angeles Police Department detectives described a home invasion they allege spiraled quickly into murder. A heist conceived by teenagers, the crime was as brazen as it was pointless — a killing that robbed the rap world of one of its brightest young artists, while netting the alleged killers a watch they sold for just $2,000. Dead at 20, Jackson would not know the breadth of the critical acclaim and commercial success his music received after he was gone.
A few hours after the killing, Frank Flores and Carlos Camacho, detectives with the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, headed to the crime scene on Hercules Drive.
Jackson, who lived in New York City, had been staying at the home during a four-day trip to Los Angeles. Walking through the rooms, Flores noted three 9-millimeter shell casings on the floor upstairs. In the kitchen, the detective found a black gift bag from Amiri, a luxury clothier Jackson often referenced in his songs. When the bag arrived a day earlier, Jackson posted a picture of it on Instagram that exposed the house address on a label. Spotting the post with alarm, a talent manager for the rapper’s record label had asked him to take it down.
When they reviewed footage from surveillance systems at homes on the street, the BMW and the Infiniti piqued their interest, Flores and Camacho testified. They could discern parts of the license plates and through DMV records learned both cars were registered to a 19-year-old named Corey Walker, according to Flores’ testimony.
A judge signed off on a warrant that gave the detectives access to a Google account linked to an email address Walker had provided when he bought the Infiniti.
In the hours before and after Jackson was killed, Flores testified that someone who was logged in to the account made several searches of interest to the detectives. At 2:45 a.m., the account’s user searched the house’s address and visited the LAPD’s website, he said. At 4:08 a.m., the user looked up the address on the real estate website Zillow, which features several photos of the inside of the house.
At 5:15 a.m., about an hour after the shooting, an internet search of “Rolex oyster perpetual datejust” was made. And just before 8 a.m., the user queried “breaking news LA” and checked ABC7’s breaking news page, Flores said. TMZ had first reported the rapper’s death earlier that morning.
The detectives got another search warrant for Walker’s phone records, which allowed them to retrace his movements by charting the cell towers off of which his phone had pinged.
The morning Jackson was killed, Walker’s phone exchanged calls with a number associated with a 17-year-old boy, said Sean Hansen, an LAPD detective who specializes in analyzing cell tower records. The Times typically does not name juvenile defendants. At 1:34 a.m., both teenagers’ phones were hitting off a tower on Florence Boulevard in South Los Angeles, but by 2:04 a.m., their phones were in contact with a tower on Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills, the detective testified.
Then, about 90 minutes later, their phones again pinged off towers in South Los Angeles, Hansen said. Half an hour later, their phones were hitting off towers on Mulholland Drive, Laurel Canyon and Hollywood Boulevard, the detective testified.
While they do not reveal the precise locations of the teenagers’ phones the morning of Feb. 19, 2020, the detective said the records offer a rough sketch of their movements: South Los Angeles to the Hollywood Hills, back to South Los Angeles, back to the hills.
After a night at EastWest Studios in Hollywood, Jackson climbed into a white Range Rover with his childhood friend, Michael Durodola, and Amelia Rose, a woman he had met that night, for the short drive back to the house. Rose and Jackson went upstairs to the master bedroom, and Durodola to a room down the hall, Det. Christian Carrasco testified.
At some point in the early morning, Jackson went into a bathroom off the bedroom to take a shower, Rose told Carrasco. She was lying in bed, half-undressed, when she noticed the curtains stirring.
Four or five people burst into the room. They were wearing ski masks. One pointed a gun at her head.
“Shut the f— up,” she recounted him saying, according to Carrasco. “Do you want to die?”
As he grabbed her phone and rifled through her purse, the others rushed into the bathroom. Rose told the detective she heard sounds of a struggle, then Jackson scream. He ran into the bedroom and she heard a “loud pop,” Carrasco testified. Jackson fell to the ground and two of the intruders began to kick him.
Jackson pulled himself up and ran downstairs. The sound of two more gunshots rang through the house. When Rose emerged from the bedroom, she told the detective she saw Jackson lying at the foot of the staircase in the foyer. She began to scream.
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