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Famed Lawyer Johnnie Cochran Dead at 67

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2005 at 2:53 pm

By LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent

LOS ANGELES – Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in December 2003, died Tuesday at his home in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. He was 67.
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Slideshow: Famed Lawyer Johnnie Cochran Dead at 67

Cochran’s legal career representing both victims of police abuse and celebrities in peril converged under the media glare when he successfully defended O.J. Simpson from murder charges.

With his gift for courtroom oratory, Cochran became known for championing the causes of black defendants and for the iconic phrase, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” in Simpson’s murder trial.

“He was a brilliant strategist who never lost touch with the common man,” said Sanford Rubinstein, a former colleague. “He took particular pride in standing up with those who were wrongfully treated. He truly loved people and the public adored him.”

While Cochran represented celebrities who included professional football players and rappers, he also stuck up for — as one colleague put it — the “common man.”

Cochran represented a Haitian immigrant tortured by New York police, a 19-year-old black woman who was shot a dozen times by police as she sat in a locked car and a white trucker who was videotaped being beaten by a mob during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

He proudly displayed copies in his office of the multimillion-dollar checks he won for ordinary citizens who said they were abused by police.

“The clients I’ve cared about the most are the No Js, the ones who nobody knows,” he once said.
Over the years, Cochran represented football great Jim Brown on rape and assault charges, actor Todd Bridges on attempted murder charges, rappers Tupac Shakur on a weapons charge, Snoop Dogg on a murder charge and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs on gun and bribery charges stemming from a nightclub shooting.

Cochran used the “if it doesn’t fit” phrase in his closing argument at the Simpson trial, describing the moment when the former football player tried on bloodstained “murder gloves” to show jurors they did not fit. One glove was found at the murder scene; the defense said the other glove was planted at Simpson’s home by racist police.

Jurors found Simpson not guilty of the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

“I’ve got to say, I don’t think I’d be home today without Johnnie,” Simpson said Tuesday by telephone from Florida. “I always tell people, if your kids or your loved ones got in trouble, you would want Johnnie. Even his adversaries respected him.”

After Simpson’s acquittal, Cochran appeared on countless TV talk shows, was awarded his own show on cable’s Court TV, traveled the world giving speeches, and was parodied in films and on such TV shows as “Seinfeld” and “South Park.”

In other cases, Cochran also represented former Black Panther Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. When Cochran helped Pratt win his freedom in 1997 he called the moment “the happiest day of my life practicing law.”

He won a $760,000 award in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Ron Settles, a black college football star who died in police custody in 1981. Cochran challenged police claims that Settles hanged himself in jail after a speeding arrest. The player’s body was exhumed and an autopsy revealed that Settles had been choked.

His clients included the family of Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old black woman shot to death by Riverside police who said she reached for a gun on her lap when they broke her car window in an effort to disarm her.

“He was an inspiration to many, many young lawyers,” said Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, a colleague on the Simpson case. “It’s a sad, sad day.”

Cochran was born Oct. 2, 1937, in Shreveport, La., the great-grandson of slaves, grandson of a sharecropper and son of an insurance salesman. He came to Los Angeles with his family in 1949, and became one of two dozen black students integrated into Los Angeles High School in the 1950s.

His skills as an attorney took shape as a child. He loved to argue, and in high school he excelled in debate. He came to idolize Thurgood Marshall, who would eventually become the Supreme Court’s first black justice.

After graduating from UCLA, Cochran earned a law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He spent two years in the Los Angeles city attorney’s office before establishing his own practice, later building his firm into a personal injury giant with more than 100 lawyers and offices around the country.

Although he frequently took police departments on in court, Cochran denied being anti-police and supported the decision of his only son, Jonathan, to join the California Highway Patrol.
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