Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., whose fierce, flamboyant and electrifyingly effective advocacy in the O. J. Simpson murder trial captivated the country and solidified his image as a master of high-profile criminal defense, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 67.
The cause was a brain tumor, said a law partner, Peter J. Neufeld.
Mr. Cochran was already a prominent Los Angeles lawyer in 1994, when Mr. Simpson, the former football star, asked him to join and then lead the lawyers defending him on charges that he had killed his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ronald L. Goldman.
The televised trial riveted the nation for most of 1995 and rocked it that October, when the jury acquitted Mr. Simpson. He was later held responsible for the killings in a civil case, where another jury evaluated much of the same evidence against a more relaxed standard of proof.
Before the Simpson case, Mr. Cochran was best known for bringing police brutality cases on behalf of black clients and for representing celebrities in trouble. Both experiences proved valuable at the Simpson trial.
Drawing on his knowledge of the Los Angeles Police Department gleaned from his days in the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, Mr. Cochran focused the Simpson jury’s attention on shortcomings in the department’s investigation of the killings and on the seeming racism of one of its detectives.
In the trial’s aftermath, Mr. Cochran’s name became a sort of shorthand, but one that meant different things in different contexts. To some, it stood for legal acumen. To others, a masterly rapport with the jury. To still others, the vexing roles of money and race in the justice system.
Mr. Cochran mostly enjoyed the references to him in films and on late-night television, where he was both admired as a singularly effective trial lawyer and mocked for his smooth style and court rhetoric.
He pleaded guilty to charges of extravagance and flamboyance.
“I like to get paid well and I like to enjoy the rewards of my work,” he wrote.
But the money he made, he said, allowed him to work for people he called “the No J’s” – “those cases I’ve taken in which the chances for getting paid are actually pretty slim.”
For all the publicity of the Simpson trial, the case that Mr. Cochran always said meant the most to him was that of Elmer Pratt, a leader of the Black Panther Party also known as Geronimo. Mr. Cochran represented Mr. Pratt when he was convicted in 1972 of murdering a 27-year-old schoolteacher on a tennis court in Santa Monica, and worked tirelessly to overturn that verdict.