Johnnie L Cochran, Jr. (October 2, 1937 – March 29, 2005) was an American trial lawyer, known for his landmark victories against official misconduct within the legal system and for his work with high-profile clients including Michael Jackson, Reginald Denny, and O.J. Simpson.
Johnnie L Cochran was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. His father was an insurance salesman, and his mother sold Avon products. The family relocated to the West Coast during the second wave of the Great Migration, settling in Los Angeles in 1949. Cochran went to local schools and graduated first in his class from Los Angeles High School in 1955. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business economics from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1959 and a Juris Doctor from the Loyola Law School in 1962.
Upon passing the bar, Cochran worked as a deputy criminal prosecutor in Los Angeles. By mid-decade, he’d entered private practice. Around this time, Cochran began to build a reputation for taking on cases involving questionable police actions against African Americans. In 1966, a black motorist named Leonard Deadwyler, while attempting to get his pregnant wife to a hospital, was killed by police officer Jerold Bova. Cochran filed a civil suit on behalf of Deadwyler’s family; though he lost, the attorney was nonetheless inspired to take on police abuse cases over the ensuing years.
In the early 1970s, Cochran also went to court in defense of Geronimo Pratt, a former Black Panther accused of murder. Pratt was convicted and imprisoned, while Cochran maintained that the activist was railroaded by authorities, pushing for a retrial. The conviction was eventually overturned after more than two decades. Pratt was released, with Cochran also overseeing a wrongful imprisonment suit.
Mr. Cochran is the only attorney ever to be the recipient of the Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from both the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Association and the Criminal Courts Bar Association.
Cochran died from a brain tumor on March 29, 2005, at the age of 67.