Richard Jaffe's Quest for Justice: Rethinking the Death Penalty in America

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The following is an excerpt from Richard Jaffe's book, Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned.

One bleak November night, a lone man pointed a gun at a young female cashier and demanded money at a grocery store in Homewood, Alabama, a suburb that stands on the edge of both Birmingham and the affluent town of Mountain Brook. After the cashier doled out a few hundred dollars in rolled cash and coins, the robber left. Shaken, the cashier called 911, reporting the armed robbery.

The 911 operator alerted the police departments from Homewood, Mountain Brook and Birmingham. Officers from all three jurisdictions quickly responded, but before they could apprehend the robber violence erupted.

A twenty-three-year-old store manager followed the robber out of the grocery store. The unarmed manager and the robber played a dangerous game of “‘cat and mouse” for two or three minutes. As the robber started to cross the street, the store manager came closer to him. The robber turned and pointed his gun at the store manager, who retreated toward the store entrance. Then the store manager retraced his pursuit.

The robber again turned and pointed his gun. The young manager again retreated. Finally, they both
disappeared deep in a dark trailer park across the street. They were out of sight of both the cashier and a customer who had witnessed the alarming scene through the store’s plate glass windows.

Within five minutes of the cashier’s call to 911, two Homewood plainclothes police officers arrived on the scene. After speaking to the cashier, they approached and entered the trailer park. Three confused students walked out on the front porch of their trailer after hearing “Halt! Police!” and two gunshots. The officers ordered them to go back inside, close the door and remain there until further notice. Several other residents later reported they also heard the sounds of two rapidly fired gunshots. For some unknown reason, the plainclothes police officers raced from the trailer park after the shots were fired.

Additional police officers who had arrived at the grocery store converged on the darkened trailer park. No more than thirty minutes after the trailer residents heard the gunshots a group of three officers searching for the robber found Bo Cochran hiding in thick brush just outside the trailer park, approximately one-quarter mile from the scene of the shooting. The police located a .38 revolver in the bushes about ten feet from Bo. Officers noticed that the worn weapon appeared rusty and brown, with a scratched four-inch barrel.

When an officer examined the weapon, he discovered that the cylinder contained four rounds and turned clockwise. He further noted and later put in his report that from the position of the cylinder, the weapon’s most recent turn would not have discharged a bullet, because it was empty. The last time someone pulled the trigger, the gun did not fire. Trailer residents had reported gunshots, but when the officers came upon Bo Cochran and his gun, they discovered the weapon was cold and without the scent of burned gun powder.

The officers did not conduct a Paraffin test, then a standard test, to determine the probability of
whether a person had recently handled or fired a gun. One of the three officers conducting the search put a gun to Bo’s head and said, “I ought to put a bullet right through your head.”

With his heart pounding, Bo was curled up in a fetal position among the dark weeds and grassy woods. The officers immediately cuffed and thoroughly searched him, finding nothing of interest and no money of any kind. Before placing him in a nearby squad car, two other officers searched Bo, again finding nothing.

It wasn’t until forty-five minutes after the reported gunshots that, after an intense search, numerous officers discovered the store manager’s lifeless corpse under the trailer shared by the three students. The body was still warm. About an hour after the students heard the shots, officers went inside their trailer and took their statements.

When the coroner arrived at the scene, he examined the dead store manager’s body. He discovered that one penetrating gunshot to the manager’s left arm travelled through his side, perforated his heart and caused his death. The bullet lodged in his right arm. This was very significant, because the bullet did not pass through his right arm; there was no exit wound. The long sleeve shirt covering the young man’s right arm bore no bullet hole.

The coroner never found the bullet, nor did a search party of police officers who searched both
that night and over the next several days using a metal detector. However, the coroner did find a rather large scraping mark at the site of the entrance wound in the manager’s right arm, as if someone had used a pocketknife to remove the bullet.

Crime scene photos revealed no signs of blood on the grass or grass marks on the store manager’s clothes. It seemed at least two persons must have lifted the young man’s body and placed it far underneath the trailer.

At the police station, the booking officers searched Bo for a third time. This time, they claimed to find a wad of money in a jacket pocket that already had been searched twice. The money matched that found in a grocery sack in the trailer park by another group of officers who had been conducting a search for shell casings, bullets and any other potential evidence.

When the officers “discovered” the rolled money in Bo’s jacket, Bo yelled out, “You planted that money on me! You planted it! You already searched me twice. You planted it!”

The officers responded by booking Bo for capital murder.

About Richard Jaffe:

Richard S. Jaffe is the Senior Partner of the Birmingham, Alabama law firm of Jaffe & Drennan, P.C., specializing in the areas of criminal defense and civil rights. A criminal trial lawyer for 36 years, Jaffe has been board certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy as a Criminal Trial Specialist since 1984 and is listed in both Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers of America, which in 2012 named him among the top 50 lawyers in Alabama.

As a legal commentator and analyst, Jaffe has provided commentary to local and national audiences on high-profile cases including the O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony trials, and most recently, the impending George Zimmerman trial.


Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned can be purchased from, and through all major booksellers