You think you've seen it all, but sometimes the news can startle even old vets. It happened to me last night when I head Johnnie Cochran (search) had died at 67.
In the very early days of the O.J. Simpson (search) saga — way, way early — Johnnie Cochran was playing the role of legal analyst at NBC News, talking to Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric and the like about Simpson's situation. It was way before the trial, just days after Simpson's arrest. Cochran would come to the newsroom in the NBC Burbank Bureau where I worked, do his short interviews and sit around on his cell phone. And I'm quite sure he was on the phone with O.J. himself, downtown in his cell.
He hadn't taken the case yet. In fact, he had yet to join the L.A. Urban League in a demand to D.A. Gil Garcetti that the O.J. trial be held downtown, where it was sure to have a mostly black jury. Garcetti agreed and that probably decided the Simpson case — two years before the verdict.
After Mr. Johnnie got all that lined up, he entered the case as Simpson's attorney. Now he had a predominantly black jury.
You gotta remember Johnnie Cochran was legendary in L.A.'s black community not for the Simpson case but for the case of a guy named Ron Settles (search) who died mysteriously in police custody. They said he hanged himself. Johnnie proved the cops killed him — choked him to death. Bad cops equals big story in L.A.'s black community.
So when a few years later Johnnie Cochran walked into the courtroom with O.J. and told the jury what they had there was rogue cops, racism, and a setup, the case was essentially over. To nine African American jurors, Johnnie Cochran's credibility was gold-plated.
If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.
I liked Johnnie Cochran. I never met him, but he was a great lawyer, a larger than life character, and a worthy opponent to the overwhelming power of the prosecutor. People said he played the race card. Yes, but I think he would have said he played the cards he was dealt. If they were race cards, then so be it. He would play them.
Johnnie Cochran: dapper and so persuasive and gone way before his time.
That's My Word.
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