Currently on a limited nationwide run, Crime After Crime
had its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and just this past weekend captured the $25,000 top prize for Best Documentary Feature at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.
Directed by Yoav Potash, Crime After Crime
is the true story of Debbie Peagler, an African-American woman incarcerated in for over 25 years for her involvement in the murder of the man who severely abused her and forced her into prostitution.
Despite suffering tremendous injustices throughout her trial, including the repression of significant evidence and a prosecution that depended almost solely upon the testimony who was known to have been perjuring himself, Peagler has lived an inspirational life while incarcerated including leading a gospel choir and teaching fellow inmates how to read and write during her time in prison. It was only when two inexperienced land-use attorneys with no background in criminal law agreed to take her case that there became hope for Peagler. Through the perseverance of her new attorneys, long-lost witnesses surfaced and proof of perjured evidence began to be exposed. Finally, the lawyers obtained new testimonies from the men who committed the murder. Despite an abundance of evidence that, at the very least, questions the severity of her sentence, the State of California repeatedly denied her appeal and even backed out of one agreement that would have led to her release. Finally, with matters literally becoming life-and-death, her fourth parole hearing leads to a recommendation of release pending Governor Schwarzenegger's approval.
Shot over the course of five years by Yoav Potash, takes us from the beginning when Peagler was a 15-year-old girl who encountered the attractive and magnetic Oliver Wilson. Unfortunately for Peagler, behind that magnetism was a severely abusive man who also forced Debbie into prostitution and eventually molested her daughter. It was only after Wilson threatened her and her family with a shotgun that Peagler finally had the man arrested ... He was arrested the very next day. At the urging of her mother, Peagler sought out a couple of neighborhood "Crips" gang members and requested they make Wilson leave her alone ... Mission accomplished. They killed Wilson.
Peagler pleaded guilty after prosecutors threatened her with the death penalty, a decision that left her incarcerated for 25 years to life. Potash's film picks up in Peagler's 20th year behind bars and shortly after a California law has been passed stating that if a person can prove themselves to be a victim of domestic violence that their case "may" be re-opened.
While Crime After Crime
is a rather fundamental documentary, it is a powerful one because Potash focuses his camera on the individuals involved instead of trying to create numerous distractions or unnecessary side stories. Peagler's story is compelling and Peagler herself is captivating onscreen. Her gratitude, yes gratitude, towards Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran for taking her case pro bono is rather amazing. Here is a woman who has seen almost nothing but injustice, an injustice that continues even after an abundance of evidence is introduced proving her conviction wrong, and she expresses an almost childlike awe towards these people who have taken up her case for absolutely nothing.
If you've never been angry at the justice system, Crime After Crime
should at least plant seeds of doubt. If you're among the many who already recognize the often lack of justice within the justice system, much like myself, then Crime After Crime
will absolutely infuriate you.
For more information on Crime After Crime
including upcoming screenings and its Oprah Winfrey Network appearance, visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic