“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” is set to premiere on FX on Feb. 2. 2016. While the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were shocking enough, what happened afterwards was unbelievable. O.J. was suspected of murdering them, he went on the run, was pursued in a strange, low speed police chase, and then experienced a murder trial that lasted the better part of a year. Bringing this crime story to TV, with the talents of an impressive cast, should be good entertainment.
Despite all of the above’s high excitement drama, there was something a little less dramatic in this real life story that will pique the curiosity of “American Crime Story’s” viewers: lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran’s infamous “Chewbacca defense.” For those who are confused, Johnnie Cochran was not the one who coined the term. It was never used during the trial. A few years after Cochran’s bewildering closing arguments in the 1995 murder trial, “South Park” lampooned Cochran’s style and dubbed it a “Chewbacca defense.”
In the “South Park” episode Chef Aid, Chef asks a major record company to give him due credit as the composer of a song the company has produced. Chef’s case seems clear cut. There is an old recording of him performing the song decades ago, and he even has the song copyrighted. Instead, the record company sues Chef for harassment.
Even though Chef is clearly in the right, the record company wins in court by hiring a fictional, cartoon version of Johnnie Cochran. Cochran’s job is to deliver a foolproof Chewbacca defense to the jury. Instead of addressing anything to do with the case, Cochran intentionally confuses the jury by throwing lots of irrelevant information about Chewbacca at them. He states that Chewbacca is from the Wookie planet Kashyyyk but lives on Endor with the Ewoks (note: this is actually not true). Because Wookies are eight-feet tall, he states that it does not make sense for Chewbacca to live with two- foot tall Ewoks. Cochran advises the jury, “If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit!” In confusion, the jury sides with the record company.
Later in the episode, Cochran takes Chef’s side and uses the same Chewbacca defense to defeat the record company in court. In this last court appearance, he even pulls out a monkey puppet, waves it in front of the jury, and states, “Here, look at the monkey. Look at the silly monkey!” A juror’s head explodes because he cannot fathom what is happening. The rest of the jury is baffled as well, so they acquit Chef solely because they have no clue what Cochran is talking about.
What’s so funny about the “South Park”episode is that Johnnie Cochran really was doing things like that at the O.J. Simpson trial. He didn’t cite Chewbacca, but he did throw lots of irrelevant information at the jury in order to befuddle them. For instance, like in the “South Park” episode, the real life Cochran used a prop to distract the jury. Instead of a monkey puppet, he pulled out a knit cap, ordered the jury to look at it, and placed the cap on his own head. He then explained that Simpson could not possibly be guilty of killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Goldman, because the prosecution said O.J. Simpson was wearing a knit cap during the murders to disguise himself. Cochran argued that it didn’t make any sense for a celebrity to wear a knit cap as a disguise. According to him, the evidence didn’t “fit”. He directly ordered the jury, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
Clearly, it’s still possible to kill people while wearing a knit cap, but it must have sounded like a real argument to the jury. Regardless of incriminating blood evidence linking O.J. Simpson to the double murder, the jury acquitted him just as Cochran instructed. However, the most recent comment on the CNN YouTube video of Cochran using a knit cap as a Chewbacca defense is,”Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Chewbacca…”
It will be interesting to see how “American Crime Story” chooses to portray Cochran’s defense, because it has since been labeled the Chewbacca defense and mocked. The show is a drama so it’s hard to imagine the actor portraying Cochran, Courtney Vance, playing the now deceased attorney like the “South Park” version. But it’s no easy task to do Cochran’s defense strategy with a straight face.