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2005-03-30

Famed Attorney Johnnie Cochran, 67, Dies

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Best known for representing O.J. Simpson, Cochran for years represented victims of police brutality and government oppression. In 1997 he won the freedom of Black Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt who spent 27 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. [includes rush transcript]

One of the best known lawyers in the United States has passed away. Johnnie Cochran died of a brain tumor at his home in Los Angeles.

He was 67. He is perhaps best-known for his work on the defense of O.J. Simpson during a murder trial in which Cochran uttered the famous quote "If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit." His family released a statement that said "Certainly, Johnnie’s career will be noted as one marked by "celebrity" cases and clientele. But he and his family were most proud of the work he did on behalf of those in the community. As Johnnie always said, "an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." It was his rallying cry as he worked to right many wrongs, and as he provided a voice to those who needed to be heard. He was deeply committed to helping and inspiring others- especially young people. His extraordinary law career will undoubtedly stand the test of time. But it was his devotion to his fellow human beings that will remain as his true legacy."

Over the years, Cochran represented football great Jim Brown on rape and assault charges, actor Todd Bridges on attempted murder charges, rapper Tupac Shakur on a weapons charge and rapper Snoop Dogg on a murder charge. But the moment he called "the happiest day of my life" practicing law came in 1997 when his client, the former Black Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. We are joined now on the phone by California attorney Stuart Hanlon. He worked for 25 years with Johnnie Cochran on the case of Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt.

  • Johnnie Cochran, speaking on Democracy Now! on October 5, 2000 about the Geronimo Pratt case.
  • Stuart Hanlon, California-based attorney. He worked for 25 years with Johnnie Cochran on the case of Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now on the phone by a California attorney, Stuart Hanlon. He worked for 25 years with Johnnie Cochran on the case of the Black Panther leader, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, but now we’re joined on the phone by Stuart Hanlon. We’re hoping that he is with us. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Stuart Hanlon. Are you with us? Well, in this case we’ll go to the tape of October 5, 2000, an interview that I did with Juan Gonzalez, who co-hosts Democracy Now! In the studio with us was Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, Johnnie Cochran and the other attorney for Geronimo ji Jaga, Stuart Hanlon.

JOHNNIE COCHRAN: Throughout our trial, especially, Mr. Pratt would always say, "They’re out to get me." "They’re." And I would always say, "Well, what do you mean by 'they?' What do you mean by 'they?' Who is this 'they?'" And, of course, he was right, and as I said, I learned a lot from representing Mr. Pratt. You know, that a little paranoia is healthy, that even paranoid people have real enemies and, of course, he was right, that it was "they." It was the F.B.I. It was the Counterintelligence Program. And Amy, how we found this out was through the good office, really, of Stuart Hanlon in the intervening years after the conviction through the Freedom of Information Act. We were able to find out a number of things, that this man, Julius Butler, who was the star witness for the prosecution, got on the stand and said that Mr. Pratt confessed to him and was asked by me, "Are you now or have you ever been an informant for the F.B.I. or any other agency?" And he said, "No." He said, "No." Unequivocally no. He lied. At that point he said that he informed 33 times. And, in fact, he was an informant for the LAPD and the L.A. County D.A.’s office. He was their confidential informant. They done that. They had wiretapped our phones. They had had informants in the defense environs, meaning that somewhere in our offices they knew everything we were going to do. They had failed to give us Brady material, that is, exculpatory material, where the husband of this lady who was shot had positively identified two other people. They kept that from us. They did all these things in an effort to neutralize, which meant kill, destroy, lock up forever Geronimo Pratt at the behest of J. Edgar Hoover.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course, at that time, you were already developing a reputation in L.A. I think in the book it says that you told, "Your honor, well, I’ve already won like 10 murder cases, I’m going to win this one, as well." But you had no idea, even then, the depth of what the law enforcement officials, what extremes they would resort to to be able to get a person they wanted to get.

JOHNNIE COCHRAN: Juan, it was just incomprehensible to me to believe they would go that far. I thought in a fair fight, we would win, and we would win in a fair fight, but it wasn’t a fair fight, and I didn’t realize the depth to which your own government could turn on a citizen, a decorated authentic American hero, two tours in Vietnam, but yet because of the fact that he was a leader, charismatic in his own right, bright, a tactician, they saw him as a threat, and they were willing to do whatever. And not only did they do this to convict him, but then they held him basically in communicado for the first eight years in solitary confinement, and then they still, even at the very end — when Stuart Hanlon and I argued this case to that judge in 1997, we had convinced everybody in the courtroom, we thought, that Pratt had gotten no trial. I turned to the D.A. whom I had known when I was a D.A., and said, "Join us and ask them to let this man out." They still wouldn’t. Even after they lost, they appealed it to the appellate court, and the court ruled unanimously against them. So the cover-up, the attempt to keep this man locked up continued 'til the very end. They didn't give us anything. And then we sued them after that.

AMY GOODMAN: Johnnie Cochran, speaking in the year 2000, as he sat in WBAI’s studios with Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, who had just come out with his book Last Man Standing, and Stuart Hanlon, as well, the other attorney in this case, who now joins us on the line. Stuart worked with Johnnie Cochran for a quarter of a century on the Geronimo ji Jaga case. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Stuart.

STUART HANLON: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. We’re sorry to have such a brief amount of time, but in this last minute, can you share your thoughts about Johnnie Cochran?

STUART HANLON: Well, you know, I’ve been thinking about him, and Geronimo and I were talking last night. I think what a lot of us feel is that Johnnie was most well-known to the rest of the world about O.J. Simpson. It made him a superstar, but I think long before O.J. Simpson, Johnnie made a career and a life fighting for people who were basically people of color who were brutalized by the police and other institutions, and I think he always felt his big victory, the most important thing, was representing Geronimo and getting him out of prison, and that’s a part of Johnnie Cochran [inaudible] in the O.J. Simpson lawyer, and —

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, Stuart, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we’re going to continue to look at Johnnie Cochran’s life, and I want to thank you for being with us. Stuart Hanlon.

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