James “Bo” Cochran died on July 12 at age 73, nearly two decades after he was exonerated and released from Alabama’s death row.
Bo Cochran was wrongly accused of killing a white man in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1976. Despite the weakness of the State’s evidence, a jury of 11 white people and one African American convicted Mr. Cochran, and he was sentenced to death.
After the state courts upheld his conviction and sentence, EJI recruited attorney Kenneth Frazier, who led the team of volunteer lawyers from Drinker Biddle & Reath that fought to exonerate Mr. Cochran.
Mr. Cochran spent 19 years on death row before his conviction was overturned by a federal court, which found that prosecutors had illegally removed Black people from his jury. Evidence from former prosecutors showed that the DA’s office that prosecuted Mr. Cochran had a pattern of removing African Americans from juries, that they believed prospective Black jurors were “less reliable” and “should not be left on juries, if at all possible,” and that race was a factor in deciding who to remove, “particularly where you had a white victim and a Black defendant.”
On re-trial, where he was represented by Richard Jaffe, Mr. Cochran was acquitted of capital murder. He was released from prison in 1997. His case is featured in the documentary film Death in Dixie.
On March 31, 2009, EJI honored Kenneth Frazier and celebrated Mr. Cochran’s release at its annual benefit dinner. We are saddened by Mr. Cochran’s passing and grateful for the opportunity to have worked with him after his release to bring attention to problems in the criminal justice system. We will remember him fondly for his warm smile, his hopefulness, and the grace with which he dealt with his illegal conviction and unjust imprisonment.