By: Johnnie Cochran
Date: September 28, 1995
Source: Cochran, Johnnie. Closing Arguments in the O.J. Simpson Trial. September 28, 1995. Available online at http://simpson.walraven.org/sep28.html; website home page: http://simpson.walraven.org (accessed July 10, 2003).
About the Author: Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. (1937–) earned his law degree from Loyola University in 1962. He worked for the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office from 1962 to 1965 before establishing his own practice. Specializing in police-brutality lawsuits, Cochran eventually won over $45 million in judgments against the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He also became a sought-after lawyer by celebrities facing criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits, including football player Jim Brown, actor Todd Bridges, and entertainer Michael Jackson. Cochran became a national celebrity himself as part of the "Dream Team" of defense lawyers representing O.J. Simpson in his double-murder trial in 1994–1995.
On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife of former professional football star O.J. Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were found murdered on the steps of her Los Angeles home. Suspicion immediately fell on Simpson as the primary suspect in the murders: he had a history of domestic violence against his ex-wife, his temper was known to be explosive, and there were no other obvious suspects for the brutal attack. Five days later Simpson and his friend, Al Cowlings, led police on a low-speed, sixty-mile chase on the Los Angeles highways before surrendering. An estimated two-thirds of American homes—ninety-five million viewers—were tuned into the event, which was televised in its entirety.
Simpson, who was jailed while he awaited trial for the murders, assembled an impressive "Dream Team" for his legal defense. Led by legendary Los Angeles attorney Johnnie Cochran, the team also included F. Lee Bailey, Barry Scheck, and Robert Shapiro. Despite the DNA and other physical evidence linking Simpson to the murders, Cochran and his colleagues cast doubt on the validity of the forensic evidence. Not only was the lab work unreliable, they claimed, but the LAPD was so infested by racist cops that it was not farfetched to imagine that the cops had concocted a conspiracy to frame Simpson for murder. The defense case bolstered its claim of racism by proving that detective Mark Fuhrman, who had denied ever using the word nigger, had in fact used it repeatedly in taped conversations. Constantly raising accusations of racism and sloppy police work, the defense was able to convince jurors that there was reasonable doubt that Simpson had committed the murders. On October 3, 1995, the jury found Simpson not guilty. An estimated 91 percent of televisions that were turned on at the time of the verdict were tuned in to hear the outcome.
Just as the not-guilty verdicts in the trial of four LAPD officers accused of savagely beating Rodney King had outraged many Americans in 1992, the verdict in the Simpson case proved equally controversial. Predictably, the reaction broke down along racial lines. Many African Americans focused on the history of police brutality against minorities and concluded that it was likely that Simpson had been caught up in a racist conspiracy engineered by the LAPD. In response, some commentators suggested that the Simpson verdict was a payback for the King verdict. In setting Simpson free, it was suggested, the predominantly African American jury had tried to even the score.
In contrast, most white Americans were convinced that Simpson had committed the murders. Cochran's blatant playing of the "race card" throughout the trial was dismissed as an emotional tactic that should not have been allowed in a court of law. Many feminists were also bewildered that the jury seemed to dismiss the history of domestic violence by Simpson against his former wife, which they viewed as persuasive evidence that he had killed her.
In a later civil trial for the wrongful deaths of Brown-Simpson and Goldman brought by their survivors, Simpson was ordered to pay $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. He retained custody of his two children by his late wife and moved to Florida, where he faced numerous legal problems throughout the 1990s. The Goldman and Brown families remained active in promoting victims' rights in legal cases and publicizing the danger and prevalence of domestic violence. No one was ever convicted at criminal trial for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Primary Source: Closing Arguments in the O.J. Simpson Trial [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: A specialist in police-brutality lawsuits, Cochran throughout the trial raised the issue of sloppy detective work and a possible conspiracy on the part of the LAPD. His most effective tactic, however, was suggesting that the racism of the LAPD destroyed its credibility. Building on this theme, he peppered his closing argument with references to the civil rights movement and concluded by telling the jurors that he knew they would "do the right thing"—the title of a Spike Lee movie about race relations—and set Simpson free.
When we concluded last night, ladies and gentlemen, we had discussed a number of things, and I'm sure you have them very much in mind. To summarize some of the things that we talked about and put it in perspective, we talked about a police department who from the very beginning was more interested in themselves and their image, and that carried through. We talked about socks that appeared all of a sudden that weren't there, socks where evidence was planted on them. We talked about police officers who lie with immunity, where the oath doesn't mean anything to them. We talkedabout messengers where you couldn't trust the message. We talked about gloves that didn't fit, a knit cap that wouldn't make any difference, a prosecution scenario that is unbelievable and unreasonable. In short, we talked about reasonable doubt. We talked about something that has made this country great, that you can be accused in this country for crime, but that is just an accusation, and when you enter a not guilty plea, since the beginning of the time of this country, since the time of the Magna Carta, that sets the forces in motion and you have a trial. This is what this is about. That is why we love what we do, an opportunity to come before people from the community, the consciences of the community. You are the consciences of the community. You set the standards. You tell us what is right and wrong. You set the standards. You use your common sense to do that. Your verdict goes far beyond these doors of this courtroom. As Mr. Darden said, the whole world is watching and waiting for your decision in this case. That is not to put any pressure on you, just to tell you what is really happening out there. So we talked about all of those things, hopefully in a logical way. Hopefully something I said made some sense to you. Hopefully as a advocate, you know my zeal, you know the passion I feel for this. We've all got time invested in this case. But it is not just about winning, it is about what is right. It is about a man's life that is at stake here. So in voir dire you promised to take the time that was necessary, and you have more than done that. Remember I asked you, though, that when you got down to the end of the case, when you kept all your promises about coming here everyday and taking these notes and paying attention, and you know, listening to us drone on and on and on, that pretty soon it would be in your hands and then you couldn't just rush through that, could you? And we tried to make it a little more simple with regard to the issues, but still we are going to have twelve minds coming together, twelve open minds, twelve unbiased minds to come together on these issues. And you will give it, I'm sure, the importance to which it is entitled. Please don't compromise your principles or your consciences in rendering this decision. Don't rush to judgment. Don't compound what they've already done in this case. Don't rush to judgment. Have a judgment that is well thought out, one that you can believe in the morning after this verdict. I want you to place yourself the day after you render the verdict, when you get up and you look in the mirror and you are free, you are no longer sequestered, you will probably look for each other but you will be happy to be home again. But what is important, look in that mirror and say, have I been true to my oath? Did I do the right thing? Was I naive? Was I timid? Or was I courageous? Did I believe in the constitution. Did I believe in justice? Did I do my part for integrity and honesty? That is the mission you are on in this journey toward justice.…
We live in a society where many people are apathetic, they don't want to get involved, and that is why all of us, to a person, in this courtroom, have thanked you from the bottom of our hearts. Because you know what? You haven't been apathetic. You are the ones who made a commitment, a commitment toward justice, and it is a painful commitment, but you've got to see it through. Your commitment, your courage, is much greater than these police officers. This man could have been off the force long ago if they had done their job, but they didn't do their job. People looked the other way. People didn't have the courage. One of the things that has made this country so great is people's willingness to stand up and say that is wrong. I'm not going to be part of it. I'm not going to be part of the cover-up. That is what I'm asking you to do. Stop this cover-up. Stop this cover-up. If you don't stop it, then who? Do you think the police department is going to stop it? Do you think the D.A.'s office is going to stop it? Do you think we can stop it by ourselves? It has to be stopped by you. And you know, they talked about Fuhrman, they talked about him in derisive tones now, and that is very fashionable now, isn't it? Everybody wants to beat up on Fuhrman, the favored whipping boy in America. I told you I don't take any delight in that because you know before this trial started, if you grow up in this country, you know there are Fuhrmans out there. You learn early on in your life that you are not going to be naive, that you love your country, but you know it is not perfect, so you understand that, so it is no surprise to me, but I don't take any pride in it. But for some of you, you are finding out the other side of life. You are finding out—that is why this case is so instructive. You are finding out about the other side of life, but things aren't always as they seem. It is not just rhetoric, it is the actions of people, it is the lack of courage and it is a lack of integrity at high places. That is what we are talking about here. Credibility doesn't attach to a title or position; it attaches to the person, so the person who may have a job where he makes two dollars an hour can have more integrity than the highest person. It is something from within. It is in your heart. It is what the lord has put there. That is what we are talking about in this case.…
And so as great as America is, we have not yet reached the point where there is equality in rights or equality of opportunity. I started off talking to you a little bit about Frederick Douglas and what he said more than a hundred years ago, for there are still the Mark Fuhrmans in this world, in this country, who hate and are yet embraced by people in power. But you and I, fighting for freedom and ideals and for justice for all, must continue to fight to expose hate and genocidal racism and these tendencies. We then become the guardians of the constitution, as I told you yesterday, for if we as the People don't continue to hold a mirror up to the face of America and say this is what you promised, this is what you delivered, if you don't speak out, if you don't stand up, if you don't do what's right, this kind of conduct will continue on forever and we will never have an ideal society, one that lives out the true meaning of the creed of the constitution or of life, liberty and justice for all. I'm going to take my seat, but I get one last time to address you, as I said before. This is a case about an innocent man wrongfully accused. You have seen him now for a year and two days. You observed him during good times and the bad times. Soon it will be your turn. You have the keys to his future. You have the evidence by which you can acquit this man. You have not only the patience, but the integrity and the courage to do the right thing. We believe you will do the right thing, and the right thing is to find this man not guilty on both of these charges.…
It is now up to you. We are going to pass this baton to you soon. You will do the right thing. You have made a commitment for justice. You will do the right thing. I will some day go on to other cases, no doubt as will Miss Clark and Mr. Darden. Judge Ito will try another case some day, I hope, but this is O.J. Simpson's one day in court. By your decision you control his very life your hands. Treat it carefully. Treat it fairly. Be fair. Don't be part of this continuing cover-up. Do the right thing remembering that if it doesn't fit, you must acquit, that if these messengers have lied to you, you can't trust their message, that this has been a search for truth. That no matter how bad it looks, if truth is out there on a scaffold and wrong is in here on the throne, when that scaffold sways the future and beyond the dim unknown standeth the same God for all people keeping watch above his own. He watches all of us and he will watch you in your decision. Thank you for your attention. God bless you.
Clark, Marcia, with Teresa Carpenter. Without a Doubt. New York: Viking, 1997.
Darden, Christopher, with Jess Walter. In Contempt. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Fuhrman, Mark. Murder in Brentwood. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1997.
Goldman, Ron, the family of, with William and Marilyn Hoffer. His Name Is Ron. New York: William Morrow, 1997.
Hixon, Walter L. Murder, Culture, and Injustice: Four Sensational Cases in American History. Akron, Ohio: The University of Akron Press, 2001.
Schmalleger, Frank M., ed. The Trial of the Century: The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, 1996.
Simpson, O.J. I Want to Tell You: My Response to Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.
Toobin, Jeffrey. The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. New York: Random House, 1996.