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Lawyer says trial's last minutes tense

NEW YORK (AP) — For a few long moments before Sean "Puffy" Combs learned his fate, teary-eyed jurors made veteran defense attorney Johnnie Cochran think the verdict might go against his client.

"It was excruciating," Cochran said in an interview Saturday.

Combs, nervously clutching a New Testament, had to wait while 10 verdicts were announced for his two co-defendants before the court's attention turned to him Friday evening.

The tension was heightened, Cochran said, because "jurors who we thought would be favorable to us were crying."

He said the jurors cried because of the anguish they felt convicting rapper Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow, 21, a Combs protege, of assault, reckless endangerment and weapons charges in the shooting of two people in a nightclub near Times Square on Dec. 27, 1999. He faces up to 25 years in prison at his April 16 sentencing.

"It was so emotional, that scene in that courthouse. You could cut the emotion with a knife," said Cochran, who defended O.J. Simpson on murder charges.

The jury acquitted Combs of charges that he took an illegal handgun into the crowded nightclub and later tried to bribe his driver to take the blame for him. It also acquitted Combs' bodyguard, Anthony "Wolf" Jones, of the same charges.

After the exhausting seven-week trial, Cochran said he plans to retire from criminal law.

"It's always good to go out with a win," he said. "What I went through made me know I've done this too many times. I'm going back into retirement."

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said only that the "jury has rendered its verdict, and we accept it."

Cochran said a highlight of the trial for him was when Combs testified in his own defense.

"When he got off the stand, I gave him a hug and told him I was real proud of him. He stood up and did the right thing," he said.

Jennifer Lopez was Combs' girlfriend at the time of the shooting. The singer and actress told a grand jury that she never saw Combs with a gun.

Cochran said the lawyers decided against calling her to the stand because they did not want to let prosecutors amplify contradictions that inevitably result when someone's grand jury testimony is compared to her recollection more than a year later.

After the verdict, Combs and supporters celebrated at a hotel while Cochran headed home.

"As I walked down the street, people were applauding," Cochran said. "That was a good feeling."