O.J. Simpson (search) paid tribute to Johnnie Cochran on Tuesday, saying the attorney's belief in his innocence was key to winning his acquittal on murder charges.

"I've got to say, I don't think I'd be home today without Johnnie," Simpson said by telephone from Florida after learning of Cochran's death in Los Angeles.

Simpson noted other members of his defense team but said: "Without Johnnie running the ball, I don't think there's a lawyer in the world that could have run that ball. I was innocent, but he believed it."

Cochran was 67 when he died Tuesday from a brain tumor.

"It's always sobering when someone is gone who is vital to your life experience," Simpson said. "I have a heavy heart."

Simpson said he had known Cochran since their daughters attended college together in Washington, D.C., long before his trial.

Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson (search), and her friend, Ronald Goldman (search), in 1994. He was acquitted the following year.

When he was facing the decision on hiring Cochran, Simpson said, "I knew that I wanted someone who would reflect me to the jury, and who better for that than Johnnie?"