Film

'Crime After Crime' on OWN Documentary Club Starting 3 November

Debbie Peagler was shocked when her boyfriend, Oliver Wilson, revealed his intention to pimp her. It didn’t occur to her that when he offered to take her “somewhere special,” he meant she’d be turning her first trick. “I’m like, freaking out,” she says now, “I’m not gonna have sex with that man, I don’t know that man.” The pair of prostitutes who were supposed to instruct her urged Debbie to go along, otherwise, “Your pimp’s gonna beat you.” She didn’t believe that either, Debbie says. “Oliver would never do that.” Of course, he would. “He hauled off and slapped the crap out of me,” she says. And it wasn’t long before Oliver was beating her regularly, with a bullwhip, though he never hit her in the face. Debbie’s story is too familiar, the cycle too well known: her mother was battered, she was battered, and Oliver watched his father batter his own mother. She was convicted of killing Oliver in 1983, or more precisely, of leading Oliver to the place where two Crips gang members (neighbors who felt Oliver had stepped over a line when he “used to beat on [Debbie] like she was a guy”) beat and strangled him to death.

There are “thousands and thousands of Debbies across the United States,” as one lawyer puts it in Crime After Crime: The Battle to Free Debbie Peagler. Still, her story is also extraordinary. The film -- airing on OWN Documentary Club this month -- tells another story, concerning her lawyers Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran's innovative legal strategies, including their decision to use Yoav Potash's film to help make Debbie's case more visible.

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