Famous clients mourn Johnnie Cochran

Thursday, April 7, 2005

LOS ANGELES -- The call came several times from the stage: Will all the celebrity clients Johnnie Cochran Jr. represented please rise.

O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and others in the star-studded audience stood up, and an overflow crowd at the 5,000-seat West Angeles Cathedral applauded.

But speaker after speaker at Wednesday's funeral said the lawyer's real A-list of clients included what Cochran once called the "No Js" -- ordinary black Americans profiled by police or fired because of their race.

"You would've had to be someone stopped by a cop only because of your skin color to know why we love Johnnie Cochran," said the Rev. Al Sharpton. "For decades our brothers, our cousins, our uncles had to stand in the well with no one to stand up for them. And finally a black man came and said, 'If it don't fit -- you must acquit."'

The famous line drew a roar from audience members who showed up for the four-hour ceremony to pay their respects to Cochran, who died March 29 of an inoperable brain tumor at his home in Los Angeles. He was 67.

Colorful and eloquent, Cochran became a legal superstar after helping clear Simpson during a sensational murder trial in which he uttered the famous "if it doesn't fit" quote -- a reference to a glove found at the murder scene.

The line quickly entered pop culture vernacular, and was on the back of T-shirts being sold for $10 outside the church. The shirts had a picture of Cochran on the front with the words: "Freedom and justice."

"Johnnie fought for his clients," Simpson told reporters outside the cathedral. "He was just a good friend, a good Christian man and a great lawyer."

The range of mourners reflected Cochran's work in civil rights cases and high-glamour trials.

Joining members of Simpson's legal "dream team" -- including Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck -- were Earvin "Magic" Johnson, civil rights leaders Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Also on stage was Stevie Wonder, who sang a song called "I'll Be Your Shelter In The Rain" and then paused to say, "For so many on this planet you were the shelter in the rain."

Former Cochran client Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was tortured by New York City police, arrived with Sharpton.

"We've known him for representing O.J. and Michael, but he was bigger and better than that," Magic Johnson said outside. "He represented people you've never heard of."

Combs recounted begging Cochran for help after his arrest in 1999 in a Manhattan criminal case. He was later acquitted of the charges, which stemmed from a nightclub shooting.

"All I wanted was to be able to walk like Johnnie Cochran," Combs said to laughter. "Johnnie Cochran had a smile that would make you want to go get your teeth cleaned, so light, so beautiful. Johnnie was a gift from God."

In 1997, Cochran won freedom for Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a former Black Panther who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. The attorney called the moment "the happiest day of my life practicing law."

On Wednesday, Pratt told mourners that Cochran "will live forever."

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