Cochran Discusses Race, Media

O.J. Defense Lawyer Speaks At HLS's Austin Hall Saturday

Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. discussed the criminal system, the issue of race and the role of the media in the O.J. Simpson trial before an audience of about 200 people at the Law School's Austin Hall Saturday.

"In this country, when you are charged with a crime, you are presumed innocent," Cochran said. "What I worry about is that so many Americans forgot that."

"Here in Boston, when the Celtics are playing, you don't leave at half-time," he said. "And when the Red Sox are playing you don't leave after the fifth inning."

Discussing the role that race played in the trial, Cochran said that contrary to what has been suggested, his closing argument didn't drive a wedge between the races, it simply revealed the chasm that already exists.

"Race matters in almost everything we do in this country whether we like it or not," he said.


"A system that has not worked very well for African Americans throughout our history seemed to work on that day [when the jury delivered its verdict]," he said.

In defense of the accusation that Cochran and the defense had introduced the "race card," he said introducing the race card was impossible because "[the prosecution] held the deck."

Cochran said that he was offended by those who disparage the jury and the verdict it reached.

"When the system works, people want to correct the system," Cochran said. "The same people in America who are now saying that the jury made a rush to judgment are the very same people who made up their minds months ago....Some people can't stand the truth."

With regard to the role of the media, Cochran said "You know you're in trouble when the New York Times quotes the National Enquirer."

"We could not afford the luxury of seeking obscurity [from the press]," Cochran said. "We were at war, but it was an honorable war."

Cochran said he believed the media decided Simpson was guilty long before the verdict was reached, but he said the media coverage provided opportunity for a valuable civics lesson.

"The cameras, [in the courtroom] in the final analysis, were very instructive to the American people," he said.

In a speech that could aptly have been titled "Journey to Justice" because of Cochran's frequent use of the phrase, Cochran said that it was "a great honor and privilege to come back to Harvard; to address some of the finest minds in the country."

He said he was initially reluctant to accept the offer of a lead position on the defense team because he was aware of the toll of high-profile cases.

Cochran cited the death and bomb threats faxed to the defense in the courtroom at the time he was giving his closing arguments as evidence of the difficulty of trying such high-profile cases.