Crime After Crime (2011), directed by Yoav Potash

There is a non-profit in my neighborhood that has programs for seniors who are disabled or have Alzheimer’s. Every year we give donations to it, but it was not until a close friend had Alzheimer’s and began using the facility that we increased our charitable giving to this particular program. Once something becomes personal, your attitude towards it changes.

This is what happens in Crime After Crime, the dramatic story of the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, an African-American woman, who is a victim of domestic violence. One of Debbie’s lawyers is Joshua Safran, whose own mother was a victim of domestic abuse. For him, the case is personal, and he is tenacious in fighting for Debbie.

In 1983, Debbie clearly was wrongly convicted of the murder of her abusive boyfriend, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. This, in spite of the fact that her boyfriend regularly beat her and forced her into prostitution.

Her story in Crime After Crime takes place almost twenty years after her initial incarceration when two young lawyers, Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran, whose expertise is in real estate, decide to take her case on a pro bono basis. Their commitment to Debbie is total; and in their investigations they uncover long-lost witnesses, relevant new testimony, and proof of perjury, all of which point to a travesty of justice. Their perseverance attracts worldwide attention to victims of wrongful incarceration and spousal abuse.

Debbie’s story is a disturbing example of a criminal justice system that is deeply flawed, allowing someone to remain in prison far beyond what her crime warranted. It is made evident that for her passive participation in her abusive boyfriend’s death, Debbie should have received a maximum sentence of six years, yet she was given a sentence of 25 years to life.

The film focuses on the investigative work of Costa and Safran, passionate attorneys who challenged her wrongful conviction. They were compassionate in listening to Debbie and in understanding her side of the story. Moreover, they were resolute in fighting the Los Angeles’ DA’s Office, which hid evidence that would have been favorable to her defense. Unfortunately, when Debbie’s case came before the court in 1983, the topics of domestic abuse and battered women were not part of the legal  landscape as they are nowadays, so there was little sympathy for Debbie.

In an article on the Aish HaTorah website, Rabbi Shraga Simmons writes about lawyer Joshua Safran’s Jewish journey. Joshua himself had been reared in an abusive home where his mother was a victim of domestic violence. As a child, he lived in an environment in which there were no rules, no father, and no stability. He was home-schooled for most of his elementary school years, and serendipitously discovered in a conversation with his mother that he was Jewish. Gradually, he began exploring what that meant and traveled on a Birthright trip to Israel. That was the beginning of his odyssey to becoming an observant Jew.

A watershed moment for him occurred at a yeshiva run by Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, whose message was one of inclusion and not judging people by appearances or by their backgrounds. That approach spoke to Joshua’s heart.

When Joshua prays in the morning, he recites a daily prayer lauding God for “releasing those who are bound.” This serves as a mission statement for Joshua, who observes: “If someone is wrongfully imprisoned, we have an obligation to fight to free them, to liberate them.” Even though Debbie’s own freedom came many years too late, her story did create a sensitivity to the plight of battered women, a sensitivity that would lead to the development of laws and agencies that would better protect them in the future.

There is a non-profit in my neighborhood that has programs for seniors who are disabled or have Alzheimer’s. Every year we give donations to it, but it was not until a close friend had Alzheimer’s and began using the facility that we increased our charitable giving to this particular program. Once something becomes personal, your attitude towards it changes.

This is what happens in Crime After Crime, thedramatic story of the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, an African-American woman, who is a victim of domestic violence. One of Debbie’s lawyers is Joshua Safran, whose own mother was a victim of domestic abuse. For him, the case is personal, and he is tenacious in fighting for Debbie.

In 1983, Debbie clearly was wrongly convicted of the murder of her abusive boyfriend, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. This, in spite of the fact that her boyfriend regularly beat her and forced her into prostitution.

Her story in Crime After Crime takes place almost twenty years after her initial incarceration when two young lawyers, Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran, whose expertise is in real estate, decide to take her case on a pro bono basis. Their commitment to Debbie is total; and in their investigations they uncover long-lost witnesses, relevant new testimony, and proof of perjury, all of which point to a travesty of justice. Their perseverance attracts worldwide attention to victims of wrongful incarceration and spousal abuse.

Debbie’s story is a disturbing example of a criminal justice system that is deeply flawed, allowing someone to remain in prison far beyond what her crime warranted. It is made evident that for her passive participation in her abusive boyfriend’s death, Debbie should have received a maximum sentence of six years, yet she was given a sentence of 25 years to life.

The film focuses on the investigative work of Costa and Safran, passionate attorneys who challenged her wrongful conviction. They were compassionate in listening to Debbie and in understanding her side of the story. Moreover, they were resolute in fighting the Los Angeles’ DA’s Office, which hid evidence that would have been favorable to her defense. Unfortunately, when Debbie’s case came before the court in 1983, the topics of domestic abuse and battered women were not part of the legal  landscape as they are nowadays, so there was little sympathy for Debbie.

In an article on the Aish HaTorah website, Rabbi Shraga Simmons writes about lawyer Joshua Safran’s Jewish journey. Joshua himself had been reared in an abusive home where his mother was a victim of domestic violence. As a child, he lived in an environment in which there were no rules, no father, and no stability. He was home-schooled for most of his elementary school years, and serendipitously discovered in a conversation with his mother that he was Jewish. Gradually, he began exploring what that meant and traveled on a Birthright trip to Israel. That was the beginning of his odyssey to becoming an observant Jew.

A watershed moment for him occurred at a yeshiva run by Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, whose message was one of inclusion and not judging people by appearances or by their backgrounds. That approach spoke to Joshua’s heart.

When Joshua prays in the morning, he recites a daily prayer lauding God for “releasing those who are bound.” This serves as a mission statement for Joshua, who observes: “If someone is wrongfully imprisoned, we have an obligation to fight to free them, to liberate them.” Even though Debbie’s own freedom came many years too late, her story did create a sensitivity to the plight of battered women, a sensitivity that would lead to the development of laws and agencies that would better protect them in the future.

Watch this movie on Amazon.com.

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