April 1, 2005 by

Johnnie Cochran

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Categories: Law

jcochran.jpgJohnnie L. Cochran Jr., the flamboyant trial lawyer who became a legal superstar after he helped Hall of Fame football player O.J. Simpson beat murder charges in 1995, died on March 29 of a brain tumor. He was 67.
The Shreveport, La., native was the great-grandson of slaves and the eldest of four children. When his family settled in Los Angeles in 1949, he became one of only a handful of black students integrated into Los Angeles High School. Cochran graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in business administration. Then, inspired by a love of debate and an admiration for Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first black justice, Cochran earned a juris doctorate degree from Loyola University in 1962 and devoted himself to the law.
Cochran spent two years toiling in the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, handling mostly drunken driving and battery cases. He prosecuted comedian Lenny Bruce on obscenity charges, which were dismissed by a judge on First Amendment grounds. In 1966, Cochran formed Cochran, Atkins & Evans and began championing the causes of black defendants. Although his 1972 defense of former Black Panther Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt ended in a guilty conviction, Cochran continued to work on the case for the next 25 years. Pratt’s conviction for murdering a 27-year-old schoolteacher on a tennis court in Santa Monica was reversed on appeal, and in 1997 he was released from prison.
With hopes of changing the system from the inside, Cochran spent the late 1970s working as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, but he returned to private practice in 1981. His current practice, The Cochran Firm specializes in personal injury law and employs more than 100 lawyers around the country. Cochran preferred to work on high-profile police brutality cases, and in his office he displayed framed copies of the checks he won for his clients.
For the last two decades of his life, Cochran was best known for representing celebrity defendants. He defended football running back Jim Brown on rape and assault charges, actor Todd Bridges on attempted murder charges, rapper Tupac Shakur on a weapons charge and rapper Snoop Dogg on a murder charge. Cochran also negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement in a 1993 civil lawsuit against pop star Michael Jackson involving allegations of child molestation. But it was the formidable litigator’s legal maneuverings as the leader of Simpson’s “Dream Team” that turned Cochran into a pop icon.
Wearing dapper suits and colorful ties, Cochran thrived in front of the cameras during the 1995 homicide trial. With a flair for the dramatic, he had Simpson don a pair of bloodstained gloves in court. Presumed to be the killer’s gloves, one was found at the crime scene and the other outside Simpson’s home. The former football star appeared to struggle with the gloves during the in-court demonstration, and in his closing argument, Cochran reminded jurors: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
By placing blame on law enforcement and using the public’s racial attitudes to raise reasonable doubt, Cochran convinced the jury to find Simpson not guilty in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald L. Goldman. Simpson was later found liable in a civil trial and ordered to pay the victims’ families $33 million. Cochran didn’t represent Simpson in the civil case.
After Simpson’s acquittal, the National Law Journal named Cochran “America’s Trial Lawyer of the Year.” He became a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, hosted several programs on Court TV and worked as a legal commentator on NBC. Cochran’s antics were also parodied on the TV shows “Seinfeld,” “Saturday Night Live” and “South Park.” In the film “Lethal Weapon 4,” comedian Chris Rock played a police officer with the LAPD. While making an arrest, Rock advised the criminal suspect of his Miranda rights, then noted: “If you get Johnnie Cochran, I’ll kill ya.”
Cochran’s personal life was often as dramatic as his professional one. He married his college sweetheart, Barbara Berry, and had two daughters, Tiffany Cochran Edwards and Melodie Cochran. However, during the couple’s 1978 divorce, court documents revealed that he had cheated on his wife for 10 years and fathered a son with his mistress, Patricia Sikora. In 2004, Sikora ended their relationship and sued Cochran for palimony. The case was settled privately. His second marriage to Dale Mason lasted until his death. Although many in law enforcement disliked Cochran, his son Jonathan later joined the California Highway Patrol.
In recent years, Cochran sued a New York Post columnist for libel and a former employee for defamation. He lost the first case; the second is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Cochran’s life was chronicled in two autobiographies: “Journey to Justice” (1996) and “A Lawyer’s Life” (2002).
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