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He Chose to Diss More Than Tell

September 30, 1996|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's astounding. It's preposterous. But there it is, in black and white:

Robert Shapiro does not have validated parking at his office complex.

Stunned? Amazed? Just wait. There's more:

Shapiro doesn't even have an assigned parking spot.

Or at least he didn't during the O.J. Simpson trial. Not according to fellow Dream Teamer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., whose tell-all tome, "Journey to Justice," hits bookstores today, full of snide put-downs, sly name-dropping and philosophical musings about race, justice and the U.S. Constitution.

If you're hoping for fresh details about the court case against Simpson, pick another book. Cochran spends more time complaining about Shapiro's shoddy office space than analyzing specific pieces of evidence. He also take a few whacks at prosecutor Christopher Darden.

Cochran doesn't explain how a bumbling technician could have fumbled Simpson's DNA onto crime-scene blood swatches. He doesn't say what pieces of evidence might have been planted. And he doesn't touch the issue of Simpson's alibi.

Cochran does not even disclose whether he really, truly believes Simpson is innocent. All he'll say is: "I take my clients at their word or I don't take them as clients."

"Journey to Justice" does include one explosive allegation: that Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti sought to settle the Simpson case with a plea bargain, offering to bump the first-degree murder charges down a notch to second-degree. Cochran insists he had no intention of settling, but says he discussed the issue with Garcetti on his car phone shortly after he joined Simpson's Dream Team.

"Johnnie," Cochran quotes Garcetti as saying, "there's no need to take this thing to trial. We can get it settled and behind us right now. . . . Suppose we let your guy plead to a second."

"I decided to see how eager Gil really was," Cochran writes. "At the very least it would give me a hint of his confidence in his prosecutors and their case."

With that in mind, Cochran said he proposed letting Simpson cop to an even lesser charge, voluntary manslaughter. Garcetti, he asserts, responded with an open mind: "I think a second is more than fair, but if you want to come in, we can talk about it. Things can be worked out."

On Saturday, Garcetti denied Cochran's account through his spokeswoman, Suzanne Childs.

"He never initiated any conversation about the case with Johnnie Cochran," Childs said of her boss. "He never offered to dispose of the case and never discussed a possible plea to second-degree murder. He always felt this was a first-degree murder case."

Cochran and his colleagues, of course, managed to crumble that first-degree murder case with their full-tilt attack on the Los Angeles Police Department. A year ago Thursday, Simpson was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Although the Dream Team defense was often described as a conspiracy theory, Cochran writes in his book that "we never believed or argued that some shadowy cabal of Los Angeles police officers set out to frame O.J. Simpson for murder because he is a black man." Rather, he said, the defense thought Simpson ended up behind bars because of "the unplanned interaction of the sloth, carelessness, incompetence, dishonesty, bias and ambition of the police and prosecutorial authorities involved."

Reprising his arguments from the criminal trial, Cochran's book argues that investigators fingered Simpson as the likely culprit early on, and ignored any evidence that might have complicated their theory.

What's more, Cochran asserts that prosecutors also wanted Simpson to be the killer, since a successful case against a celebrity icon could make their careers. (Cochran does not explain why, if the DA's office was eager for a headline-grabbing trial, Garcetti allegedly offered to settle the case with a plea bargain.)

*

"Journey to Justice"--written with Times staff writer Tim Rutten--positions Cochran as a champion fighter against police misconduct, not just in the Simpson case but throughout much of his career. The book also features long excerpts from his closing argument in the People vs. Orenthal James Simpson, including his passionate exhortation to jurors: "You police the police. You police them by your verdict."

But most of the 150-page section on the Simpson trial does not dwell on the courtroom activity. Instead, Cochran dishes out the behind-the-scenes dirt on his fellow lawyers.

Target No. 1 is Shapiro.

Cochran accuses Shapiro--who could not be reached for comment--of goofing off while the rest of the defense team worked. Of talking about Simpson as though he were guilty. Of dwelling too much on his fees while running up huge overhead costs. And of coming up with crackpot ideas, such as urging his contacts in the television business to air movies about courageous juries acquitting suspects in the hopes of influencing prospective jurors.

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