THE ACQUITTAL OF OJ SIMPSON: 'Dream team' put police in frame

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The Independent Online
The issue of race split OJ Simpson's own defence team in the last days of the trial, writes Tim Cornwell. Johnnie Cochran's bodyguards from the radical black Nation of Islam, and his comparison of the leading prosecution witness, Mark Fuhrman, to Adolf Hitler, unsettled his Jewish colleague, Robert Shapiro.

But the "dream team", whose costs, estimated at several million dollars, will probably be eclipsed by the money their client can earn now that he has been acquitted, delivered a powerful twin-track defence. They fiercely attacked technical evidence while portraying Mr Simpson as the victim of a racist frame-up. The defence produced blue- chip forensic experts and criminologists like Michael Badon and Henry Lee. At the same time they found the screenwriter, Laura Hart McKinny, who tape-recorded Mr Fuhrman's racist language and stories of planting evidence and cover-ups.

They were drawn mostly from a coterie of Los Angeles lawyers who shared a list of celebrity defendants. Mr Shapiro, 43, at Marlon Brando's side, pulled off a 10-year voluntary manslaughter deal for Mr Brando's son Christian, who was accused of murder. He was known as a star negotiator.

He shared the leadership of the team with Mr Cochran, whose own client list included Michael Jackson (referred by Elizabeth Taylor), the rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, accused of a drive-by murder, and Reginald Denny, the white trucker who was nearly beaten to death in the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Mr Cochran, 56, was a long time friend of Mr Simpson, though before he was hired he worked as a television commentator. He has specialised in turning on courtroom passion for minority defendants, and his oratory supposedly reduced one Simpson juror to tears. His law firm has collected $40m (pounds 25.1m) in lawsuits against the Los Angeles police department and other government bodies.

The nine-member defence team also included the legendary counsel F Lee Bailey. But in his much-hyped cross-examination of Mr Fuhrman, Mr Bailey failed to shake the detective's composure.

Instead the relatively unknown New York attorney Barry Schenk took the role of Mr Cochran's sidekick.

His repeated interruptions of the summing-up by the chief prosecutor, Marcia Clark, earned him the ire of Judge Lance Ito, who told him twice to sit down.