Interview: Johnnie Cochran with Steve Hammer immediately after O.J. trial

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2005 at 3:23 pm

Interview: Johnnie Cochran

Johnnie Cochran speaks his mind

‘It’s not a racial verdict,’ he says

October 19, 1995

By Steve Hammer

His victory in the O.J. Simpson trial behind him, California attorney Johnnie Cochran is in the midst of building a nationwide coalition of friends and allies.

His travels brought him to Indianapolis last week as the keynote speaker at a benefit for the Leukemia Society of Indiana on the theme of unity. In a press conference, and in an exclusive interview with NUVO, Cochran rehashed the Simpson matter as well as his future plans.

On the quick verdict:

“I was not surprised at the verdict, and I’ll tell you why. I had spoken to Mr. Simpson the night before. We had a lot of optimism that it was going to be not guilty. I had talked to my associate, [Carl] Douglas, and he told me exactly what had transpired. At 2:20 p.m., the juors asked for the verdict forms for the first time. They returned the verdict forms at 2:28. If you know criminal law, and you know what a verdict form is, you had to make a determination for both victims on first or second degree murder, whether or not a deadly weapon was used and, finally, whether or not in California law, special circumstances pertained. … It was very involved and the jury would have been hard-pressed to return that in eight minutes unless they checked not guilty. That’s what I felt. And then when I saw the jurors’ eyes, I felt it was not guilty… I felt more of a release at that time instead of surprise.”

On the nation’s reaction:

“I’m somewhat surprised by [the nation’s reaction] because it’s somewhat inimical to the American way. In this country, especially, if one is cloaked in the presumption of innocence and there is a jury of one’s peers — realize that this was not an all-black jury; there were Caucasians and Hispanics on the jury — and he is acquitted, I would expect more people would be willing to accept the verdict… I have in mind people like President Nixon, who was not convicted but who was welcomed back after a period of time, and Spiro Agnew, whose bust was placed in the Capitol this year. I think about Michael Milken. All of those people were actually found guilty… I think the fundamental fairness of the American people will carry the day.”

What does he have to say to blacks in regards to the verdict?

“I think that as with many things in the African-American experience, we will have to keep our dignity, continue to believe in the fundamental fairness of the system and of Americans generally. I’ve been really pleased there haven’t been a lot of counter-demonstrations. Basically, Mr. Simpson was put on trial in a case where the prosecution spent close to $10 million. They used every agency — the FBI, Interpol, the LAPD. There were 43 proseecutors assigned to this case. You talk about resources, they used every possible resource they could in this case. They were preaching to themselves about this mountain of evidence. They didn’t have any. This is not a case about race, it is a case about reasonable doubt. I think people will understand this.

“This week, one of the white jurors spoke out, lady juror number three. Although she favored the prosecution, the evidence just wasn’t there… If people stop and think about it and get past all these emotions, we’ll get past this. This case is over.”

How should whites react to the verdict?

“I think that for all Americans, specifically white Americans, it is important to remember how well our institutions have served us. We’ve had jury trials in this country from the very beginning. They talk about reform; what kind of reform are you gonna have? You’re going to take away the right to jury trials? They’re talking in California about having a 10-2 verdict, less than unanimous. [In this case], the verdict would have been in in one hour because it was 10-2 on the first vote. So I say, when the process works, you have to learn to accept that and then move forward. I think the rule of law is one that must pertain. You can’t be ruled by emotions. Quite frankly, I think the media has done a lot about separation. I think there are a lot of white people who are willing to accept this verdict… but we don’t hear from those people. We only hear from the other people. Everyone has a right to redress any grievances they might have but you see, this is one of the things you can’t appeal. You can only be tried once. As people understand that, I think we can then look for the positive aspects.

“The black community is no monolith… but when you saw black youngsters on college campuses, or black people in Times Square, seeming to rejoice, it wasn’t that they didn’t appreciate that this was a very serious matter. But we’ve had this long history where the justice system hasn’t always worked for African Americans. And so I think it was a belief that it worked, that the presumption of innocence had pertained. I think that as people step back and understand what each side was saying, it should not be perceived that it breaks down along racial lines.

“Having said that, the other thing that I think both sides need to do is we need to stop talking past one another and start talking to one another. It is not true that anything we did in this case caused racial divisions in this country. Any racial concerns that people have had have always existed in this country. The question is whether you choose to address them or whether you pretend they don’t exist.

“For both sides, we should come together and get something positive out of this. We should talk about things that tend to divide us and help to find out how we can come together.

“I think Jesse Jackson said that we all came here on different ships but we’re all in the same boat. We have got to learn to live together, and that’s what we need to be talking about.”

A lot of people say the Simpson jury didn’t deliberate long enough.

Never before in the history of this country have people been willing to make up their minds before they hear all the facts. The same people who are accusing the jury of not deliberating long enough had made up their minds months ago before they heard all the evidence. They were planning victory parties in this case before we ever started our case. And that’s the problem. (They say) “How did they win?” What we did was. we tried the case. We were lawyers. I did my job. People don’t want to accept that, but they saw it before their very eyes. Everybody wants to see things differently, but when the jurors came out – who sat there for a year of their lives, getting $5 a day – they said, black white and brown, “We didn’t trust the evidence.” It’s like we said: there was a rush to judgment. That you couldn’t trust the messengers or their message. Then you can understand that what we were saying had some validity. And I think that’s what it comes down to.

It’s hard for me to understand, people having such a hard time. It has nothing to do with race. They said, “Look, how many reasonable doubts do you need?” If he could not, would not, did not do it per the timeline, you don’t get to whether they planted blood on the socks. You don’t get to the EDTA on the back gate. You don’t get to whether the socks were placed there after the video was taken. You don’t get to whether somebody planted the glove.

If you look at it piece by piece, you’ll see that this mountain of evidence they kept talking about became a molehill that collapsed under an avalanche of lies. Those are the facts. And what you need to do is say to the LAPD, “Get your house in order.” Say to the L.A. County Coroner, “You should comply with the state law. You should do a better job. The citizens demand more.”

Those are some of the lessons we ought to learn from this rather than harping on what could have happened based on people prejudging it.

From the time of Emmitt Till, from the time of Medgar Evers, when white people have been accused of killing blacks and the jury stayed out 15 minutes and the jury knew everybody by their first name, black people didn’t go out and do anything, they accepted the system they believed in. Same thing in Simi Valley. The white people basically acquitted those officers. It wasn’t black people who had the power to go and retry them on separate charges, it was President Bush as you recall who brought separate and distinct charges.

Are there any reforms you would support?

Yes. Non-sequestration. The jurors were like prisoners. We told them the case would probably be over in April. They were sequestered in January. Nine months later, they’re still sequestered. I think that’s above and beyond the call of duty. I think we should work out something better, even if it means that neither side talks at all, that there’s some kind of ban on the proceedings as far as the media goes, whatever we have to do to make sure the jurors aren’t locked up.

Abraham Lincoln said the highest act of citizenship is jury service. Now, what’s the message we’re sending to people who do that? The highest act of service is you shouldn’t pay this price?

…What happened in this case is that during the jury selection, the LAPD, the LA District Attorney’s Office, released the 911 tape. We don’t think that that was a mistake, that it happened right during jury selection. And we had to live with that. Now if you represent a client, you have to respond to that. They say something and you have to respond to that . I think if one side doesn’t make any statements, it’s easier to not say anything, to say, “My client’s not guilty and that’s it.” But when the other side starts releasing stuff every day, like stuff about a ski mask – there was no ski mask – released this tape here, release all these things, feeding the public, so that the public gets worked up into a frenzy and prejudges the entire case. The only people speaking for Mr. Simpson were his representatives.

What is your next case? What are you going to do next?

Well, as I said before, I’m not going to Disneyland. I’m going to continue this 33-year odyssey that I’ve had, what I call a journey to justice. I’m going to start trial in Los Angeles on Oct. 23 in the Snoop Doggy Dogg so-called murder case. On Dec. 5, I have a civil case representing Reginald Denny in a suit against the city of Los Angeles for the police failing to protect him and everyopne in that particular area. I have a number of other cases. I’m going to Oklahoma City very soon. I represent… the victims against a defendant who manufactured this ammonium nitrate fertilizer bomb. I’ll be trying cases. I’m a lawyer. That’s what I do.

Steve Hammer




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