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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 March 2005, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Obituary: Johnnie Cochran
Johnnie Cochran
Cochran was inspired by a Supreme Court decision against segregation
The US lawyer Johnnie Cochran became a celebrity in his own right after helping to secure OJ Simpson's acquittal on a charge of murdering his ex-wife and her lover.

There was widespread outrage among white Americans after Mr Simpson walked free.

Cochran was accused of playing the "race card" to a largely black jury after suggesting that police had planted evidence in an attempt to frame Mr Simpson because he was a black superstar.

In his autobiography, Cochran said it was an insult to all African-Americans to think he could convince black jurors to acquit a man they believed to be guilty of two murders just because he was black.

Inspired

In the wake of the trial, Cochran frequently appeared on television chat shows, got his own court TV series and was parodied in films and hugely popular television shows such as Seinfeld and South Park.

Cochran was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, the son of an insurance salesman, the great-grandson of slaves.

As a schoolboy he was inspired by the attorney Thurgood Marshall who persuaded the Supreme Court to outlaw school segregation in 1954.

OJ Simpson with Johnnie Cochran
Acquitted: Cochran embraces a delighted OJ Simpson
"I knew that if one man could cause this great stir, then the law must be a wondrous thing," he said.

After graduating from UCLA, Cochran attained a law degree and spent two years in the Los Angeles city attorney's office before establishing his own practice.

He eventually employed more than 100 lawyers around the country, pursuing personal injury claims.

With his flamboyant suits and ties and a winning personality, Cochran became a colourful fixture on the US legal scene.

He was secretive about his private life, but startling details were exposed to the public gaze after his divorce in 1978 from his college sweetheart, the mother of his two daughters.

It emerged that for 10 years he had had a second family, fathering a son with his mistress, who later sued him in a case that was finally settled out of court.

Ordinary folk

Cochran supported his son's decision to join the California Highway Patrol, despite his frequent battles with police departments in court.

He said many poor black people feared the police more than they feared criminals.

"People in New York and Los Angeles, especially mothers in the African-American community, are more afraid of the police injuring or killing their children than they are of muggers on the corner," he said.

And while his greatest fame came from representing celebrities, he said the clients he cared most about were ordinary citizens.

Johnnie Cochran
Johnnie Cochran in flamboyant mood
In his office he displayed copies of the multi-million dollar cheques he had won for people who said they were abused by police.

Among those paying tribute to Cochran is Michael Jackson, who Cochran represented in a civil suit which ended with an undisclosed settlement after a teenage boy claimed the singer molested him.

"Johnnie Cochran was a true gentleman who embodied class, brilliance, honesty and integrity," Jackson said.

OJ Simpson commented: "I don't think I'd be home today without Johnnie."

After the Simpson case, Cochran concentrated more on civil cases, but remained an admired figure in the black community for his quest for justice and his philanthropy, which included helping to fund a university scholarship and a low-income housing complex.




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