F. Lee Bailey emerges form a side door. He motions to Cochran. "I'm standing the watch with O.J. (during lunch). We need to talk."
Cochran says his office has become a "war room. It's incredible. It's the most massive undertaking I've ever seen. There are 23,000 pages and 300 witnesses computerized and cross-referenced. I've got 20 people--including 10 attorneys, two private investigators and researchers--on this."
Cochran says he has spent most of January preparing an opening statement and "projecting and analyzing what evidence the prosecution is going to hit us with. I've got to show a reasonable doubt and embellish on that. I've got to show this was a rush to judgment by police and the district attorney. How they (police and prosecution) were lying to judges. I'll talk a lot about the lack of integrity of the evidence."
Cochran is well aware of the defense attorney adage: The appearance of being innocent is far more important than being innocent. Cochran says he told Simpson "to be himself." All confidence, Cochran adds: "You're gonna look at this guy and say, 'This guy didn't do it.' "
COCHRAN CAN'T HELP BUT SEE MY list of typed questions as we drive to an appointment at UCLA. He spots the word, "egomania." He flinches. "People say that about me? Who says that?"
'Most everybody," I reply.
We park. Cochran pulls a bag from his car trunk. "Videos," he says. "Of me." Nine to be exact. Profiles by NBC, CBS, CNN, the Courtroom Television Network, "Hard Copy," "Inside Edition," "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung" and two personal homages. One of these tributes runs 14 minutes, flashing 95 photographs of Cochran from infancy to Simpson to the strains of pop gospel and soul music. The video ends with a 90-second close-up of Cochran smiling.
His birth certificate of Oct. 2, 1937, in Shreveport, La., identifies him as James Harold Cochran, named after the doctor who delivered him. A week later, his mother, Hattie, upon reflection, changed him name to Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., after his father, Johnnie L. Sr. The middle initial "L" is just an initial; no name goes with it.
Cochran was 6 when his family took the train to California. they moved into a three-bedroom, one-bath, wood-frame house in West Adams, a middle-class neighborhood when Cochran and his two sisters were growing up. His father was an executive in the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co., one of the largest black-owned businesses in the United States; he was in charge of the company's training program.
Cochran attended Los Angeles High School on Olympic Boulevard, bordering exclusive Hancock Park. His classmates were largely upper-middle-class and white. He likes to tell interviewers about the tennis courts, swimming pools and indoor archery range that his white friends had. At the time, he says, "I thought, 'Hey, I can have that, too.' "
His mother occasionally sold Avon door-to-door, but her family came first. "My mother cooked every day of her life for her family," he says. "She was the glue that kept us all together. She was very wise." Cochran's mother died in 1991 at 74. His father, now 78, lives with him.
"Johnnie Cochran is the product of loving, religious, outstanding parents," says Irwin Evans, Cochran's law partner from 1970 to 1978. "They nurtured him on the importance of education, which in those days was the only way out for blacks." Cochran's father put his three children through UCLA at the same time.
At UCLA, Cochran joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. His sponsor and Big Brother was future mayor Tom Bradley. There he also met Ronald Sunderland, the son of a Jewish grocer. They entered Loyola Law School together, crammed for the bar at Sunderland's home and were best men at each other's weddings. "We're the closest of friends," Cochran says. "For 20 years, Ron and I have talked daily, each morning." Sunderland is now executive vice president in charge of business affairs and contracts at KABC.
"In law school," Sunderland recounts, "Johnnie studied hard but his grades weren't that great. He got mad because I watched television, and he had to study. Nobody predicted he would become a great trial attorney. But we all knew he had something special: boundless energy, personality, an almost photographic memory."
Sunderland says people misread Cochran's constant pursuit of political connections, particularly with prosecutors his clients face in court. "There is the perception that Johnnie wants to become the big player in town. The truth is Johnnie likes money and what it gives him. He wants access to prosecutors because it's good for his clients. Johnnie works hard and he likes to have fun, play hard. That's the side of Johnnie nobody knows. He does it for what money can buy. A lot of people try to get next to him, to know him. He doesn't like that. To those people he masks his feelings."