Did Johnnie Cochran Have A History Of Domestic Abuse? 'American Crime Story' References Real Claims
Although Johnnie Cochran had a long, successful career and tried a variety of cases, his name will always be synonymous with the O.J. Simpson trial. It's no surprise that he's playing a key role in Ryan Murphy's series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story — after all, Cochran was lead defense attorney and the show focuses on the trial of Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, of which Simpson was found not guilty. Domestic abuse has been a recurring theme throughout the series so far, and the March 8 episode raises another disturbing allegation — did Johnnie Cochran have a history of domestic abuse?
Cochran was never charged with domestic violence, but his ex-wife Barbara Jean Berry made allegations on multiple occasions. Leading up to the Simpson trial, the Los Angeles Times delved into the claims, reporting that Berry filed for divorce in 1967 and alleged that Cochran had abused her. At this time, Berry filed a declaration in which she requested a restraining order and outlined her allegations: "On April 29, 1967, my husband violently pushed me against the wall, held me there and grabbed me by my chin. He has slapped me in the past, torn a dress off me (and) threatened on numerous occasions to beat me up."
Cochran was not charged with a crime and the couple apparently reconciled until 1977 when Berry filed for divorce again. She also filed another declaration accusing Cochran of abuse: "During the course of our marriage ... (Cochran has) without any reasonable cause, provocation or justification physically struck, beat and inflicted severe injury up on the person of the Petitioner."
These allegations were brought into the spotlight when Cochran took the lead on the Simpson case. In January 1995, Cochran adamantly told the LA Times, "I have never touched her or hit her, and we are very good friends to this day ... Those are 20-year-old statements for legal reasons. She knows they are not true and will be happy to talk to you about it." He also stated that she alleged abuse because a restraining order would allow her to take possession of their house, and the newspaper reported that a restraining order was granted in 1977.
At the time the January 1995 article was published, Berry declined to comment on the allegations and would only say that she was "very happy" for her ex-husband's professional successes. Cochran expressed both confusion and frustration that Berry would not retract her domestic abuse allegations.
Although she didn't want to speak with the press, Berry published a book on the topic less than a year later. In 1995's Life After Johnnie Cochran: Why I Left The Sweetest-Talking, Most Successful Black Lawyer in L.A., she reiterated her prior allegations. According to CNN, Berry claimed that she decided to write the book after Cochran contacted her and requested that she speak with reporters to deny the abuse. (This is presumably in reference to the LA Times article.) An excerpt from the book once again outlines the allegations:
He grabbed me, holding me by one hand tightly--it hurt the way he was holding me--and started hitting me on the side of my head with his fists, where my hair would cover any marks. He hit me three or four times, yelling, 'I'm going to hit you where there won't be any bruises.' I cried out for him to stop.
Though it seems he was referencing other claims made in Life After Johnnie Cochran, in 2000 Cochran told the New York Times, "This is ridiculous. My poor dear ex-wife -- it is not true. She saw a chance to write a book and to try to make some money." However, Cochran and Berry's adult daughter, Tiffany, directly addressed the abuse claims from the book, telling PEOPLE in 1995 that the allegations were "a shock" and stating, "my father is not a violent man." She emphasized her belief that the claims were made in order to reach a divorce settlement.
Though the allegations described by Berry are certainly shocking and disturbing, the public will never know the full story. But because the claims surfaced at the time of the Simpson case, they undoubtedly added yet another twist to an already complicated, sensational trial.