O.J. Simpson Meets Puff Daddy

Scapegoating Sean Combs to Get Back at Johnnie Cochran

Should Combs then be held responsible for that weapon, a 9mm handgun? "Notably," Cochran and Brafman pointed out, "Mr. Combs did not know how to access the compartment and, based on [our] understanding of the brief conversation that Fenderson overheard, Combs refused to allow the weapon to be secreted in the Navigator." In the absence of prospective jurors, Bogdanos declared: "I will not argue that [Combs] had the trap [compartment] for the purpose [of hiding] guns. . . but that the guns would physically fit." Bogdanos plans to present a DEA agent who will testify that guns can be hidden in the SUV's customized compartment. Said Bogdanos: "I will argue that they were trying to place the guns in the trap."

Brafman suggested to prospective jurors that some key prosecution witnesses—Fenderson, Natania Reuben (who was shot in the face, and was the most seriously injured), and Club New York owner Michael Bergos—want Combs convicted to enhance multimillion-dollar civil suits they've filed against him. "Do you agree that money sometimes can be a motivating factor?" asked Brafman, adding, "If anyone testifies and says something incriminating against Combs, can you believe that person may be an opportunist?"

The Last Hurrah: Win or lose, the Combs trial is it in the criminal justice arena for dapper “Dream Team” mouthpiece Johnnie Cochran.
photo: Chien
The Last Hurrah: Win or lose, the Combs trial is it in the criminal justice arena for dapper “Dream Team” mouthpiece Johnnie Cochran.

There is no doubt that Johnnie Cochran wants to win his last hurrah. But what novel arguments will he raise? What outrageous new phrases can he coin? Can he out-Brafman Brafman? How far will he go to snatch victory from the righteous Matthew Bogdanos? Has Cochran's take-no-prisoners style been impeded by criticisms, like that of New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, that he "will say or do just about anything to win, typically at the expense of the truth"?

Cochran is not well liked by the city's right-wing media. In a 1997 column, Peyser denounced Cochran's addition to the team of lawyers representing Abner Louima in his civil suit against the police. Referring to Cochran's lead role in the defense of Simpson, Peyser wrote that he was part of a team of "legal scoundrels" who "dazzled a Los Angeles jury into buying his fantasy tale of a citywide police conspiracy, in order to set free a celebrity who slaughtered his ex-wife."

Cochran filed a $10 million libel suit against Peyser and the Post, claiming that the column accused him of unethical conduct. But last April, U.S. District Judge Kim Wardlaw dismissed the suit, saying any reasonable reader would recognize that Peyser was simply expressing her "contempt for Cochran and his trial tactics"—an expression that could not be proven true or false. "At most," the judge added, "it conveys that Cochran performed well the role of a criminal defense lawyer—successfully developing a theory to explain the facts and tell a logical story to absolve his client." The Combs trial offers Cochran a unique chance to seek something more than an acquittal.

Last week, in addressing the impact a courtroom stacked with celebrity defendants might have on jurors skeptical of their innocence, Benjamin Brafman rose to Cochran's defense, saying no one should hold Cochran's notoriety against him. "They are jumping off the page at you!" Brafman roared. "You've got Puff Daddy! You've got Shyne! You've got Johnnie Cochran! All of these personalities are in the mix. You do not convict someone because he has a good lawyer." Johnnie Cochran is more than a good lawyer—he's a great lawyer, the kind who just might reprise the most memorable words of the Simpson trial if Matthew Bogdanos cannot "physically fit" the guns he maintains Combs tried to stuff into the trap of his SUV: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

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