UCLA law professor Peter Arenella and Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson offer their take on the O.J. Simpson trial. Joining them is Georgetown law professor Paul Rothstein. Today’s topic: Johnnie Cochran and Barry Scheck aim for 12 hearts and minds.


On the defense: No one could accuse Cochran of undue subtlety as he preached about the sins of racism and how lying cops should not go unpunished. In essence, he treated a conviction of O.J. as an endorsement of racism. He exhorted jurors to use their power to end the cover-up that started when a racist cop planted the glove. Why would others participate in this conspiracy? Because the police believed O.J. was guilty and live by two rules: the end justifies the means and always cover for each other. And what about all the other physical evidence implicating O.J.? Enter Scheck, describing the cancer at the core of the prosecution’s case: the black hole of the LAPD lab where DNA evidence was exposed to severe risks of cross-contamination. If jurors accept Scheck’s bottom line that some tainted evidence undercuts the rest, they can justify an acquittal while sending a message to the LAPD.

Laurie Levenson

On the defense: It was a closing argument like none I’ve ever seen before. Cochran designed his remarks to inflame the passions of jurors and he may have done just that. He was like a man possessed as he spoke of Mark Fuhrman and the LAPD’s mission to destroy O.J. But most of all, he made his closing argument about race and how jurors must acquit O.J. if they are going to stop the gnawing cancer of racism and betrayal in our society. Cochran seemed to be in an evangelical frenzy as he quoted repeatedly from the Bible and told jurors they must answer to a higher authority. Ultimately, however, it was up to Scheck to do the real work for the defense. Scheck had to pick apart physical evidence and he did a masterful job of it. Whether it be by claiming contamination or conspiracy, he had an explanation for everything. Marcia Clark will have to start walking back up her mountain of evidence step by step.



On the defense: The defense gave the jurors a very high level of oratorical skill, particularly Cochran in the final moments. Cochran appealed to their hearts and sense of justice and Scheck appealed to their minds with a detailed examination of just what’s wrong with many pieces of evidence. It was a good 1-2 punch. Cochran also made some ingenious tactical moves, including the reasonable doubt chart and dictating 15 loaded questions for Clark to answer. The questions were loaded because they highlighted only the most advantageous parts of the defense and said nothing about the strong points of the prosecution case, such as the DNA results. If Clark falls for their trap, she will spend all her time on the defense’s home turf and she will have to do it in such detail, she won’t be able to rise to splendid oratory herself. She needs to ask the defense 15 questions that they haven’t answered and can’t answer.

Compiled by HENRY WEINSTEIN / Los Angeles Times