Revisit Award-Winning Documentary 'Crime After Crime' on Its 5th Anniversary
Photo Credit: S & A

Revisit Award-Winning Documentary 'Crime After Crime' on Its 5th Anniversary


Marissa Alexander, an African American woman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2012 for firing warning shots into a wall during a confrontation with her husband.

Alexander’s lawyers claimed self-defense in the case, stating that her husband had a history of abuse in their relationship, and thus they invoked Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives people the right to use lethal force if they feel their lives are threatened (you’ll recall this ultimately was central to George Zimmerman being found not guilty of the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin).





However, the jury in Alexander’s case sided with prosecutors who argued that her actions were not in self-defense, sending her to 20 years in prison.

Let me repeat that, she fired warning shots into a wall, not even at the husband, to fend off his abuse – abuse that he had a history of; and she gets 20 years in prison?

I’m no attorney so, please riddle me that!

Apparently, there’s a so-called “10-20-Life” law in Florida, enacted in 1999, that states that if a firearm is discharged (even if it doesn’t hurt or kill anyone, as was the case with Alexander), the person responsible will receive a 20-year minimum sentence, and if the discharge does result in injury or death of another, the minimum sentence is 25-years to life.

In thinking about Alexander’s case, I was immediately reminded of the 2011 documentary titled “Crime After Crime,” which was released in USA theaters today, July 1, in 2011, and I thought I’d recognize it on its 5th birthday, encouraging you to see it, if you haven’t.

“Crime After Crime” tells the story of Debbie Peagler, also an African American woman, as well as a survivor of brutal domestic violence, who was incarcerated for her connection to the murder of her abuser – a boyfriend who beat her and forced her into prostitution.

The short version the story goes… Debbie and her boyfriend, Oliver Wilson, met in the late 1970′s, when she was just 15 years old. Fearing for her life, Debbie did Wilson’s bidding for years. She tried to escape, but each time was forced back, with violence and death threats. Wilson even sexually assaulted Debbie’s six-year-old daughter years later.

Desperate, Debbie eventually turned to two male acquaintances for help. The men then beat Wilson up, which was what she asked them to do, if only to scare him straight; but they went one step further and strangled him to death.

In 1983, Debbie and the two men were prosecuted and she was charged with first-degree murder. During the trial, her public defender reportedly didn’t even bother to present any evidence of the physical, sexual and emotional abuse Debbie suffered for years. And, as a result, Deborah was forced into entering a guilty plea, after the DA threatened her with the death penalty.

After spending 26 long years in prison, a pair of rookie attorneys cut their teeth on her case, attracting global attention to this murky, troubled intersection of domestic violence and criminal justice, as they worked to set her free, and they were eventually successful, thankfully.

In August 2009, Debbie Peagler was finally released, thanks, in part, to then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, after spending almost 30 years in prison.

However, unfortunately, in February 2009, Peagler was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and, sadly, less than a year after she won her freedom, she died of lung cancer while at home with her family on June 8, 2010.

She barely got a chance to enjoy that freedom. She was just 51 years old.

Through the perseverance of her young attorneys (and Peagler herself), they were able to bring to light long-lost witnesses, new testimonies from the men who actually committed the murder, and proof that some of the evidence against her that was submitted into testimony, was false, and/or had been tampered with.

Their investigation ultimately attracted global attention to other victims of wrongful incarceration and abuse.

"Crime After Crime"
“Crime After Crime”

The 2011 documentary, which took five years to make, was directed by Yoav Potash, and was picked up by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network (television distribution rights), soon after its Sundance premiere that same year. It saw a limited theatrical release a few months later, before heading to home video (you can find it on DVD and VOD platforms currently).

In early 2012, Ro*Co Productions, a partner of Oprah’s OWN Documentary Club, announced that it would be partnering with 1492 Pictures (producers of “The Help” and “Harry Potter”) to adapt the award-winning “Crime After Crime” documentary as a scripted feature film.

It’s been 4 years since that announcement, but no news to report on its progress, or whether it’s even still alive.

The documentary, however, is available, and worth checking out – especially if you appreciated Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” documentary series. It played the international film festival circuit and won numerous awards along the way.

It’s not streaming on Netflix, but, as I said, it’s available on DVD, either as a rental, or purchase, as well as on various VOD and digital platforms. So you’ve got options.

Below, watch the trailer for “Crime After Crime.”





Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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