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Remembering Johnnie Cochran: A 1996 Talk

Criminal defense attorney Johnnie Cochran died Tuesday at age 67 of cancer, after having been diagnosed in 2003 with an inoperable brain tumor. In 1995, Cochran won O.J. Simpson a not-guilty verdict in the slayings of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Over the years, Cochran defended celebrities as well as lesser-known individuals. He represented football great Jim Brown, as well as rappers Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg and Sean Combs. (Originial airdate: 10/10/96)

08:14

Other segments from the episode on March 30, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 30, 2005: Interview with Kool Herc; Commentary on “Pachuco Boogie;” Obituary for Johnny Cochran.

Transcript

DATE March 30, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: East Los Angeles music of the 1940s
TERRY GROSS, host:

Lalo Guerrero was one of the pioneer musicians who captured the sound of hip,
young Mexican Americans of East LA during the '40s. He died earlier this
month. Our rock historian Ed Ward says Guerrero was part of a forgotten
chapter of American pop music history.

(Soundbite of music)

ED WARD reporting:

Post-World War II Los Angeles was the home of sophisticated urban blues,
thanks to an influx of black workers attracted by war industries, which didn't
discriminate against them, as well as the unfortunate fact that downtown's
largely Japanese-American population had been relocated to camps. During the
war, clubs had sprung up and small combos led by people like the Liggins
brothers, Joe & Jimmy, Roy Milton, and Johnny Otis provided music for dancing
and romancing well into the night. So perhaps it's not surprising to learn
that on Whittier Boulevard, on the city's East Side, a parallel phenomenon was
erupting as young Latin men copied black hipsters' zoot-suit fashions, their
dances and their music.

(Soundbite of "Pachuco Boogie")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Elalville(ph) boogie. Boogie. Elalville
boogie. Pachuco boogie, pachuco boogie, pachuco boogie. Boogie. Elalville
boogie. Boogie. Elalville boogie. Pachuco boogie, pachuco boogie, pachuco
boogie. (Foreign language spoken)

WARD: They proudly called themselves pachucos. They'd been around since the
late '30s, dressing sharp, talking an impenetrable slang called calo, which
its roots in 15th-century North African Gypsy languages. The word pachuco
itself is calo for El Paso, just as Sacros(ph) was Sacramento and San Tony was
San Antonio. By the late '40s, pachucos were an established subculture
wherever Mexican Americans lived. And so Edmundo Martinez Tostado, a
brilliant musician who'd played with a number of top American bands and was
known as Don Tosti, put together a combo called Don Tosti's Pachuco Boogie
Boys.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

WARD: They didn't just play boogie, of course. "El Tirili," their
celebration of marijuana smokers, is a mambo, a dance that was coming into
favor in the late '40s.

Because this era was the first flowering of low-budget, independent record
labels, just about anything went. And nobody knew what the next trend would
be. Perhaps the mysterious Dacita would have popularized pachuco culture if
anyone had heard her song about Solido Joaquin.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Chorus: (Singing) Solido Joaquin.

DACITA (Singer): (Singing) The guy is solid, the guy is storied.

Unidentified Chorus: (Singing) Solido Joaquin.

DACITA: (Singing) The Latin lover, the Latin groaner.

Unidentified Chorus: (Singing) Solido Joaquin.

DACITA: (Singing) The girls adore him, the men implore him.

Unidentified Chorus: (Singing) Solido Joaquin.

DACITA: (Singing) He has them swooning, he drives them loony. It is very
plain to see he is what every man should be. All the girls say he's for
me, tough and dark and handsome, Jack.

Unidentified Chorus: (Singing) Solido Joaquin.

WARD: What Don Tosti started, LA's first major Mexican-American singing
star, Lalo Guerrero, ran with. On some of the first records on the Imperial
label, which later recorded Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson, he laid down some
pachuco classics.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. LALO GUERRERO (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

WARD: None perhaps was as notorious as the one in which he supposedly sang of
his love for his girlfriend, Mary Jane.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GUERRERO: (Singing) Mari-marijuana, mari-marijuana boogie.
Mari-marijuana, mari-marijuana boogie. Mari-marijuana, that's my baby's
name. (Singing in foreign language) Marijuana boogie boy.

WARD: Naturally the pachucos were playing with fire, and naturally they got
burned. Don Tosti and Lalo Guerrero were smart enough to change with the
times, the former becoming an in-demand jazz musician and session man and the
latter making records in many different styles, including his famous country
parody "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Busboys," and encouraging
young Chicano musicians to develop their own pop styles. Lalo Guerrero died
on March 17th, 2005, at 88, closing an era which began with the pachucos,
whose music gave voice to a forgotten subculture.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He played music from the Arhoolie CD
"Pachuco Boogie."

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #3: Bam bop, be be eeb oomp bam bop, be be eeb oomp bam,
oomp bop, oom bop, oom bop-bop, be be eeb oomp bam bop, be be eeb oomp bam,
eeb oomp bop, oomp bop, oomp. (Foreign language spoken) Be oomp, be oomp, be
oomp, be oomp...

GROSS: Coming up, we listen back to an excerpt of our 1996 interview with
Johnnie Cochran. He died yesterday at the age of 67. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: 1996 discussion with Johnnie Cochran about his career as
a criminal defense attorney
TERRY GROSS, host:

Johnnie Cochran died of a brain tumor yesterday at the age of 67. He
established his reputation handling police brutality cases. But he became
best known for his high-profile cases, which turned Cochran himself into a
celebrity. In 1994, he represented Michael Jackson in his first child
molestation case. In '94 and '95, Cochran led O.J. Simpson's team of lawyers,
the so-called Dream Team.

The case that Cochran said meant the most to him was the case of Elmer
"Geronimo" Pratt, who was a leader of the Black Panther Party when he was
convicted of murder in 1972. Cochran was part of the team that convinced a
judge to void Pratt's conviction and won his release from prison in 1997.

I spoke with Johnnie Cochran in 1996, one year after O.J. Simpson was found
not guilty of murder in his criminal trial. Cochran had just published his
memoir, "Journey to Justice."

(Soundbite of 1996 interview)

GROSS: Would you have defended O.J. Simpson if you had serious doubts about
his innocence or if you thought he was actually guilty?

Mr. JOHNNIE COCHRAN (Criminal Defense Attorney): It depends. You know,
sometimes you have clients who will come to you and say, `I'm guilty. I want
you to work out the best deal you can' for them. And in that case, you enter
into a plea and the case is over with.

If you had a client who you believed was guilty or who told you they were
guilty, you could defend them, but you certainly could not call witnesses
that would fly in the face of what you knew to be the facts or the evidence
because you'd be suborning perjury. Of course, we didn't have that problem
in the Simpson case because O.J. Simpson always--to everyone on that defense
team, has always maintained his innocence. And everything that he told us
that we checked out always checked out.

GROSS: You've been criticized for making the O.J. Simpson case a case about
race, deflecting attention away from Simpson's actual guilt or innocence. And
a lot of people say, `Well, sure, O.J. Simpson was African-American, but in
this case he wasn't a victim of racism as much as he was the beneficiary of
celebrity status.' What do you say to that?

Mr. COCHRAN: Oh, people who say that don't really understand the facts. Let
me just indicate this to you. First, long before I ever got on the case,
race had become a major issue. If you recall, when the case was transferred
from Santa Monica to downtown LA, people raised the issue, `Well, gee, they're
going to have a different racial makeup for the jury.' Time magazine took
Simpson's photograph and put it on the cover and darkened it significantly,
always the indications of race.

But perhaps the telling feature was Mark Fuhrman was called by the
prosecution. They knew who he was. They knew he was a virulent racist. Yet
then he was a key witness in the case. They put him on the case. As a lawyer
involved in the case, I had nothing to do with race from that standpoint.
Long before I entered the case, in the July issue of 1994 of New Yorker
magazine, Robert Shapiro had told Jeffrey Toobin in that story, the story
about the police detective who he believed--the racist police detective who
planted the glove.

Now I then come into the case. My role was to deal with credibility of
witnesses. Under the case of Davis vs. Alaska and other cases, when you have
a witness who has racial animus and he's a key witness in the case, that
racial animus, it goes to his bias where he says he would plant evidence, or
he says that if he saw a black man driving down the street with a white woman,
he would make up a reason to stop them, it becomes the lawyer's job to pursue
the evidence and the credibility of the witness. This witness was not
credible, as evidenced by his perjury plea. If I were not to pursue that, any
lawyer were not to pursue that, it would be malpractice, pure and simple.

So the rest of this is just folderol. People who say that don't know what
they're talking about. We would have committed malpractice. And you talk to
lawyers who try cases, and they'll tell you we did our job. I didn't raise
any issues. I dealt with the issues that are already there.

GROSS: In your final comments to the jury, in your concluding comments, you
said, `If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.' Who came up with the rhyme?

Mr. COCHRAN: Jerry Uelmen. That was Jerry Uelmen's original rhyme. He
shared it with me early on, probably in June, July or so, and I liked it and
embellished upon it a little bit. And--but it was clear. And it occurred,
maybe a little after June because it was really tied into the ill-fated glove
demonstration by Christopher Darden and--because, you see, they spent so much
time saying, `OK, these are the killer's gloves. And now, OK, Mr. Simpson, if
he's the killer, these gloves will fit him, right?' And, of course, the
gloves hadn't shrunk. They were the exact same size. And the gloves didn't
fit. And it just followed that if the gloves didn't fit, the jury would have
to acquit.

GROSS: Now how'd you feel going with a rhyme in your concluding comments? A
lot of people felt, `Well, it's kind of like coming up with a little rap or a
clever slogan or something, and, you know, is the concluding comments a place
for slogans?'

Mr. COCHRAN: Mm, I felt excellent about it. And you're still talking about
it. The jurors were still talking about it. You have to graphically
demonstrate things so people recall them. You know you've done your job in an
argument when, number one--they tell you in law school--if the jurors or a
juror starts to cry during your argument, which happened, and, number two,
when the juries come out and they quote what you have to say. And to this
day, in fact, if you go to the courtroom in Santa Monica, even now in the
civil case, those people who believe in Mr. Simpson as innocent--there's a
recent article in the LA Time--are still articulating the argument that we
gave. And people who believe he's innocent can better articulate, according
to this article, the reasons why he's innocent than people who say they
believe he's guilty.

GROSS: Robert Shapiro wanted you to be the lawyer that cross-examined Mark
Fuhrman.

Mr. COCHRAN: That's correct.

GROSS: Right. And he thought it would be just particularly dramatic to have
an African-American lawyer cross-examining this white racist cop.

Mr. COCHRAN: Right.

GROSS: And you decided, no, you weren't going to do it. You were going to
have F. Lee Bailey cross-examine Fuhrman. Why didn't you want to do it
yourself? Why go with Bailey instead?

Mr. COCHRAN: OK, if you--again, in the book, you'll remember that I had
spent much of my career in handling these police abuse cases. We won--our
firm, it won over $45 million in damages against cities and counties in the
state of California in the decade of the '80s. So this is something I did and
was pretty expert at--you know, credibility of police officers. But because I
didn't want to enhance this whole issue of race, the picture of the black
lawyer cross-examining vigorously this white police officer--was something I
didn't want to have that image there. And I felt that here was a person we
knew was lying. And so I, despite Shapiro's protestations, said, `I'm not
going to do this. I'm going to have Bailey do it.' And I think I made the
right decision. It seemed to lower the tensions, etc., and I think it was
appropriate. And I would do the same thing again.

GROSS: Johnnie Cochran recorded in 1996. He died yesterday of a brain tumor.
He was 67.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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