Cochran Boosted Prestige Of Black Defense Lawyers


Johnnie Cochran, who died yesterday, will forever be linked in the public’s mind with his successful defense in the O.J. Simpson murder case. The Los Angeles Times notes that “he famously cast doubt on the prosecution’s theory of the case, saying: ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.’ ” The Times says the line was conceived by co-counsel Gerald F. Uelmen. “He could walk into court and charm the pants off a jury,” said Leslie Abramson, a retired defense attorney. “But it wasn’t snake oil. He could figure out the essence of the case – of how ordinary people would view the law, the facts – and the equity, the sense of justice. He always had it figured out. And he had it figured out in Simpson. And the prosecutors never did.”

Cochran inspired law students and attained a level of stardom rare for a lawyer and even rarer for a black lawyer. “Clients of all races are now no longer hesitant to retain black lawyers to represent them in significant cases,” said Winston Kevin McKesson, a black criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles. “That was not the case 25 or 30 years ago. We couldn’t even get African Americans in our community to trust us. He’s a historic figure.”


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