Johnnie Cochran, OJ Simpson’s lawyer, was able to win an acquittal for his client by making the mid-nineties trial about race, not a double murder. To do so, he manipulated the media, according to Christopher Darden, one of the prosecutors charged with trying Simpson.
“Cochran used the media to change the conversation as effectively as Donald Trump does,” Darden said on Reddit, in an AMA.
More than 20 years later, America remains fascinated by the 1994 Simpson murder case, its aftermath, and its impact on American media, culture, and race relations. Last year, the trial was dramatized as an award-wining series on FX, while an eight-hour documentary about the life of Simpson won an Oscar. This week, Simpson’s parole hearing—for an unrelated robbery—was televised live on multiple cable channels.
One of the sub-themes of the case was how Simpson’s defense team, led by the charismatic Cochran, turned what could have been any easy win for the prosecution into a not-guilty verdict. Their strategy was to make the case about the racism of the Los Angeles police department, which they accused of framing Simpson for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, his ex-wife and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Cochran turned the trial’s focus on Mark Fuhrman, a detective investigating the case, and, explosively, his use of the n-word (paywall). The racial dimension became particularly fraught for Darden, an African-American lawyer, who was trying his first major case.
Darden, who has maintained a low profile since the trial, didn’t elaborate on his Reddit comment, but he suggests that Cochran, through flamboyant statements and acts, was able to captivate the media, which in turn helped sway the jury. The parallels with Trump, whose tweets and statements can whip the media into a frenzy, are clear. His May 31 tweet of nonsense word “covfefe” for example, became the lead story on cable news, displacing coverage of the debate over health care and the Russia investigation.
Darden dropped a few other intriguing tidbits in is AMA:
- The eight-month Simpson trial took a physical toll on him: He said he lost 2o lbs, two teeth and had four root canal surgeries before it was over.
- He thought Cochran’s famous line—”if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit”— was “a kids rhyme for idiots.”
- Now a defense attorney, he said he would have no problem defending Simpson, and that Cochran referred clients to him before he died.
He also claims not to have watched the recent wave of OJ-inspired media, including his smoldering representation by actor Sterling K. Brown. Maybe he’s just intimidated: “Everyone says Sterling K. Brown is a better me than me,” he said.