As far as the list of legal icons is concerned, Johnnie Cochran stands tall as a name synonymous with advocacy and justice. Cochran was a prominent lawyer whose influence extended well beyond the courtroom. His life unfolded in the context of social transformation and judicial victories, which saw him play a role in one of America’s most famous murder trial cases, emerging victorious.
This piece gives a vivid overview of the late Johnnie Cochran, a renowned and highly successful lawyer.
Johnnie Cochran biography
Johnnie Lee Cochran Jr. (October 2, 1937 – March 29, 2005) was a prominent American attorney renowned for his key role in defending and securing the acquittal of O. J. Simpson in the murder trial of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.
Cochran’s roots trace back to Shreveport, Lousiana, where he was born to Johnnie Cochran Sr., an insurance salesman, and his mother, who was involved in selling Avon products. The family later moved to Los Angeles in 1949. Cochran excelled in local schools and graduated as the top student from Los Angeles High School in 1955.
He furthered his education and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1959. He subsequently obtained a Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School in 1962. Notably, Cochran was a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, initiated through the Upsilon Chapter, and achieved the fraternity’s 45th Laurel Wreath laureate.
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Johnnie Cochran career
Having successfully passed the California bar exam in 1963, Cochran began his legal career in Los Angeles, initially serving as a deputy city attorney in the criminal division. In 1964, he gained prominence by prosecuting comedian Lenny Bruce on obscenity charges. Two years later, Cochran established his law firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans, in Los Angeles.
One of Cochran’s early cases involved representing an African-American widow, who sued police officers for fatally shooting her husband, Leonard Deadwyler. Although Cochran did not secure a victory, the case marked a pivotal moment in his career. Recognising the trial’s impact on the black community, he noted that it revealed the galvanising effect of addressing issues of police abuse.
By the late 1970s, Cochran had solidified his reputation, handling high-profile cases related to police brutality and criminal matters within the black community. In 1978, he returned to public service as the First Assistant District Attorney in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, aiming to effect positive change from within.
Five years later, Cochran established the Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. law firm and earned acclaim as “the best in the West”. Notably, he secured a substantial settlement for the family of Ron Settles, a black college football player allegedly murdered by the police.
Throughout his career, Cochran’s courtroom style, described as theatrical, contributed to his success as a lawyer. His flamboyance and persuasive rhetoric, coupled with a focus on tort actions, earned him considerable wealth. Cochran’s financial success was evident in his luxurious lifestyle, including ownership of properties in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Manhattan, along with notable vehicles like a Jaguar and a Rolls-Royce.
Cochran had earned a reputation as a sought-after attorney for the affluent and a successful advocate in cases related to police brutality and civil rights for minorities. However, it was the controversial and high-profile O.J. Simpson trial that catapulted Cochran into wider recognition, sparking a more polarised perception of him.
In the lengthy public trial of O. J. Simpson that concluded in October 1995, Cochran played a pivotal role. Despite the prosecution presenting both circumstantial and physical evidence suggesting Simpson’s involvement in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, Simpson was controversially acquitted. Cochran’s now-famous phrase, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” became a central point in his closing arguments in attempting to convince the jury that the glove found at the crime scene did not implicate Simpson. The subsequent civil trial found Simpson liable for the deaths, though Cochran did not represent him in this case.
Criticism arose during the criminal trial, with Cochran accused of suggesting that the police framed Simpson due to racism. He successfully persuaded the jury that the prosecution failed to prove Simpson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that evidence had been planted against him.
Cochran’s legal prowess extended beyond the Simpson trial. Notable cases included successfully representing Abner Louima, who suffered police brutality, securing an $8.75 million settlement—the largest in New York City’s history. Cochran also defended Sean Combs in 2001, securing an acquittal on bribery and stolen weapons charges. Throughout his career, the lawyer took on diverse cases, including defending individuals like Stanley Tookie Williams in a robbery trial and Michael Jackson in a child molestation case that was settled out of court.
Despite requests from R. Kelly and Allen Iverson, he declined further representation.
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Johnnie Cochran’s net worth
In 2001, Cochran’s estimated net worth was anticipated to reach $25–50 million within five years.
Johnnie Cochran family
Cochran got married to Barbara Cochran Berry in 1960 and their union lasted until 1977. The couple had three children: Tiffany, Jonathan and Melodie.
His second marriage to Sylvia Dale took place in 1985 and continued until 2005, although they did not have children together.
Johnnie Cochran age
Cochrane was born on October 2, 1937. He died at age 67.
Johnnie Cochran’s death
In December 2003, Cochran received a diagnosis of a brain tumour. Subsequently, in April 2004, he underwent surgery, leading him to maintain a low profile in the media. Despite the health challenge, Cochran expressed to the New York Post that he was feeling well and in good health.
He succumbed to the brain tumour on March 29, 2005, at his residence in Los Angeles. Public viewings of his casket were conducted on April 4, 2005, at the Angelus Funeral Home and on April 5, 2005, at Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles. A memorial service took place at West Angeles Cathedral in Los Angeles on April 6, 2005.
Cochran’s final resting place is in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. The funeral saw attendance from his father, Johnnie Sr., as well as numerous former friends and clients, including O. J. Simpson and Michael Jackson.
On May 31, 2005, two months following Cochran’s passing, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its verdict in Tory v. Cochran. The court, with a 7–2 majority, determined that, given Cochran’s demise, an injunction restricting Ulysses Tory’s demonstrations “constitutes an excessively broad prior restraint upon speech”. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas expressed the view that Cochran’s death rendered the court’s ruling unnecessary. Before Cochran’s passing, lower courts had maintained that Tory was prohibited from making any public comments about Cochran.
The legacy of Johnnie Cochran has found a poignant resurgence in popular culture, notably through the gripping adaptation series, “The People vs. O.J. Simpson“. In this enthralling narrative, Courtney B. Vance masterfully brought Cochran’s character to life, translating the complexities of his legal brilliance onto the screen. The series not only revitalised public interest in the landmark O.J. Simpson trial but also propelled Cochran’s story from the annals of legal history to the forefront of mainstream media.
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