Journey to Justiceby Johnnie L. Cochran, Tim Rutten
Illuminates the odyssey that led Johnny Cochran from Shreveport, LA, to Judge Lance Itos courtroom in the trial of O.J. Simpson. Cochrans father, Johnnie, Sr., & his mother, Hattie, provided the spiritual comfort & the nurturing values necessary to help sustain him & his two sisters, despite Jim Crows iron grip & the tough economic times. Not least among those values were the dignity of hard work, service to ones fellow man, & the necessity of keeping faith with ones God. This unflinching portrait of the man & the legal system will forever change our understanding of what works & what doesnt in Americas legal system.
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 MASS MKT
- Product dimensions:
- 4.50(w) x 6.86(h) x 1.44(d)
Read an Excerpt
It was a sweltering day in early September 1972. I was thirty-four years old; I had tried and won ten murder cases in a row; I had my confidence: I was on a roll.
Then I agreed to defend Geronimo Pratt. Geronimo was innocent. We were friends. I never had cared about a client as deeply as I did him. And now I was on my way to visit Pratt in the prison where the state of California intended to keep him for the rest of his life.
What happened? What went wrong?
As I was driving north out of San Francisco on that sweltering day, Pratt's trial was still fresh in my mind. As I headed for San Quentin, I replayed it over and over in my head. Most of all, I recalled the moment less than two months before when Judge Kathleen Parker's bailiff had intoned the familiar "All rise" and we stood to hear the jury's verdict.
Pratt's trial on charges of murder, robbery, and aggravated assault had been hard fought but no more difficult than many others I had won over the years. Still, I was inordinately tense as Judge Parker scanned the verdicts, then handed them to her clerk to be read. From the start, an indescribable undercurrent had surged beneath the surface of the Pratt case. Like an underground river, dark and hidden, it had silently eaten away at the very foundations of my confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system.
My client, the leader of the Black Panther Party's Los Angeles office, had insisted from the start that his case "was about something else. They're out to get me, Cochran," he said over and over, "and they're going to do whatever they have to do." But I was an experienced attorney. I dealt in facts, not conspiratorial fantasies. With all they had on their minds in those turbulent years, it seemed somehow improbable to me that federal, state, and local authorities would plot secretly together to persecute a single Vietnam veteran whose worst fault was a taste for hyperbolic revolutionary jargon.
But as Geronimo and I stood shoulder to shoulder to hear his fate pronounced, why was my stomach heaving?
"The defendant will face the jury," Judge Parker instructed, and Geronimo and I turned as if in harness. I scanned the jurors' faces. They did not return my gaze.
"We the jury in the above action find the defendant... "
I had done my best. But suddenly--for perhaps the first time--I wondered if it really had been enough.
"... guilty, as charged, of the crime of murder."
A few weeks later, on August 29, Judge Parker denied without comment my motion for a new trial and sentenced Geronimo Pratt to life in prison. In the days that followed, there were rumors and whispers, glimmers of dark secrets. I had begun to learn things, though not nearly as much as I intended to know. One of us, indeed, had been living in a fantasy world. But it wasn't my client.
I had come to San Quentin, in part, to tell Geronimo that. The guard who escorted me to the three-by-five-foot cubicle set aside for visiting lawyers and their clients smiled chillingly as he opened the door. This, he informed me, was the very room in which George Jackson had been handed a gun by his lawyer shortly before his fatal escape attempt. Pratt was in solitary confinement, where he would remain for the next eight years, and they brought him to me chained hand and foot. He wore a white jumpsuit with a huge black X stenciled on its back.
"Cochran," he said matter-of-factly, "this thing on my back is a target. When I walk back across that yard, if I fall down they will shoot and kill me."
We sat across from each other at a wooden table, a metal screen between us. We talked for hours without ceasing. Then the walls of that tiny room began to close in on me. I felt suddenly desperate, as if I might be going mad. It was time to go. We rose and put our hands together against the screen.
"Don't forget me, Cochran," he said.
"I won't," I promised.
And I never have. Driving back toward San Francisco, I approached the Golden Gate Bridge, and, all at once, its storied beauty seemed somehow forbidding and tragic, part of another world in which people lived happily and unburdened. If I was to keep my promise to Geronimo Pratt, if I was to complete this journey to justice on which I had embarked, I would need more strength than I ever had imagined.
I knew just where to find it. As I have so many times in my life, I recalled the words of the Prophet Isaiah: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
That's the thing about roots. They nourish you, and a man who has them always knows where he stands. My own roots run through the rich, black earth of my family's love, across the continent and back nearly sixty years to a clapboard house on a red dirt hill in Shreveport, Louisiana, and to the Little Union Baptist Church where I first heard the voices that have been with me ever since....
Meet the Author
Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. continues to practice law. He also co-hosts a live, weeknight talk show, "Cochran and Grace, for Court TV. The show analyzes and discusses the day's top legal stories and their wider social and political implications. He lives in Los Angeles and New York with his wife, Dr. Dale Mason Cochran, and his father, Johnnie L. Cochran, Sr.
Tim Rutten is an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Leslie Abramson, and their son, Aidan.
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