Sundance 2011: Oprah's network buys L.A. crime documentary
Oprah Winfrey’s new cable network, OWN, has acquired “Crime After Crime,” a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last week and takes aim at Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley for his handling of a controversial murder case.
Director Yoav Potash said in an interview Monday that the deal includes an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run in Los Angeles and New York before its airing on television. The deal for the film was valued in the low six figures, according to a person involved in the negotiations.
“Throughout most of my time making this film, which was 5 1/2 years, people kept saying Oprah has to see this,” Potash said by phone. “It involves an important social issue that affects women but doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and it’s a film about an African American protagonist who holds her head up high despite being brutalized and being denied justice.”
The film chronicles the story of Deborah Peagler, who pleaded guilty in 1983 to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. She said she agreed to the plea to avoid a death sentence for her involvement in the killing of her estranged boyfriend. (Read more about the case, and last week's screening, here.)
At the time, the fact that she was severely battered by her boyfriend was not considered, but California became the first state in the country to pass a law in 2002 that allows cases to be reopened if the defendant can show that domestic violence was a factor that led to the killing.
Cooley became a key foil to the efforts of Peagler and her pro bono attorneys to gain her release under the law, and the documentary follows their topsy-turvy battle to its unsettling completion.
At screenings of the movie in Park City, Utah, many viewers hissed when Cooley appeared on screen, but his spokeswoman released a statement saying that the office was steadfast in its belief that Peagler was treated appropriately.
"Deborah Peagler intentionally orchestrated the murder-for-hire of her estranged boyfriend. She lured him to the spot where he was killed. She witnessed the murder and drove the killers away," Sandi Gibbons said. "She profited by receiving money from the victim's insurance."
Photo: Deborah Peagler, pictured behind the security glass at Central California Women's Facility prison. Credit: Yoav Potash