Crime After Crime
I have seen “Crime After Crime” twice and could not be more enthusiastic about it. I first saw the film several months ago, at a press screening for the “New York Jewish Film Festival” at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and was thrilled to see that it is has finally been given a theatrical release, at the IFC Center. I went to see “Crime After Crime” again last week and was glad to find that the film has lost none of its power. Sadly, as I write this, the only show time now listed at the IFC Center (in NY) for “Crime After Crime” is at 10:45 am, which is truly a shame. While it may not last there much longer, I hope it will have a life somewhere else.
“Crime After Crime” tells the story of the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, an African American woman, in LA, imprisoned for 25 years to life for first degree murder of her abusive boyfriend, Oliver Wilson. Wilson beat Peagler and forced her into prostitution. When Peagler tried to escape, Wilson and a group of men showed up, armed and threatening, at the house where she was staying. Shortly after this incident Wilson was murdered by members of the Crips street gang. Peagler did play a part in the murder, as she had lured Wilson to the park where he was killed.
Threatened with the death penalty, Peagler pled guilty. In 1983, when this happened, little was known about domestic violence. The abuse Peagler suffered would not have even been admissible as evidence in her defense in the early eighties. Had Peagler been charged appropriately, for manslaughter instead of murder, she would have served a maximum of six years. Cut to nearly 20 years later. In 2002 California became the only state in the country to pass a law allowing victims of domestic violence, who have killed their abusers, to have their cases reopened. The only problem is most of these women do not have the means to hire attorneys.
California’s Habeas Project, an advocacy group for reducing the sentences of victims of domestic violence, provides Peagler with two pro bono (free) lawyers. Attorneys Joshua Safron and Nadia Costa, neither of whom is a criminal lawyer, take on Peagler’s case. Safron is an orthodox Jew who believes, “It is a Jewish obligation to free those who are bound.” Costa is an amateur marathon runner who has had her own first hand experience with abuse. They are joined by investigator Bobby Buechler, who refers to himself as “the old man of the group.” The unlikely trio works tirelessly, over years, trying to free Peagler. It proves to be an arduous, road-block filled process.
Potash who, amazingly, directed, co-produced, co-photographed and edited “Crime After Crime” was certainly given full access to the people and the story. He has edited years of footage down to a tight and taut 93 minutes. Potash keeps his narrative clear, resorting, at two points, to having attorney Safron draw pictures on a board to illustrate and clarify the legal goals, issues and maneuvers at work. The technique works beautifully. Potash manages to seamlessly weave in the back-stories and personal lives of Peagler, her two attorneys, investigator and members of Peagler’s family. The result is a fascinating legal procedural that, more important, is a stunning human drama with unforgettable characters.
IFC Center is located at 323 Sixth Avenue at 3rd Street.
“Crime After Crime,” director Yoav Potash, 2011,
OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Newtork, 93 minutes