Deborah Peagler, imprisoned for over 26 years for her connection to the murder of the man who abused her, leads the gospel choir in prison at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, CA. Photo: Matt Chapman
Crime After Crime
Sundance Film Festival
Director: Yoav Potash
It’s sickening to think of a world where battered women who fight back against their abusers can be locked up for simply defending themselves. Yes, nowadays victims can seek shelters, but such was not the case in the late 1970s and that fact is exactly why Deborah Peagler was incarcerated and sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of her boyfriend, Oliver Wilson. The two dated as teenagers for years, but when Oliver suddenly faced financial difficulties, he forced Deborah into prostitution and when she refused, she received multiple beatings with fists and bullwhips. Once Deborah’s mother became aware of the situation, a plan was enacted with two local gang members to teach Oliver a lesson. That scheme resulted in Oliver’s murder and Deborah’s life was shattered forever. After being imprisoned for over 20 years and being denied parole twice, a gleam of hope came for Deborah in the form of a law the state of California passed that allowed inmates who were incarcerated while in abusive relationships the opportunity to reintroduce their case to the court with the chance of having the charges reduced. In Deborah’s situation, it would reduce her charge of first-degree murder to manslaughter, which carries a sentence of six years maximum. It was a chance for freedom she never thought she’d have again. With the help of the California Habeas Project, a collection of lawyers who help abused inmates’ cases pro bono, the race to free Deborah was launched but it’ll take years before the dramatic finale. Potash immerses the audience in a rollercoaster story that’s so incredible, it’s hard to believe it’s true. There are so many high and low points, you’ll be laughing one second and crying the next. From corrupted D.A. officials to evidence tampering, Deborah’s story is a masterpiece no one in Hollywood could ever write. Potash has encapsulated the human spirit and laid it out across a stunning 93-minute documentary.