The CaseIn 1983, Debbie Peagler was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder, despite many factors indicating that she should not have been charged with the crime in the first place. But Debbie’s case is not one of mistaken identity or a matter of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Debbie was a victim of domestic violence who had tried to escape her abuser many times, even turning to police (who were of little help). When two men who were supposed to protect Debbie killed her abuser, she was charged with first-degree murder and threatened with the death penalty.
To avoid that sentence, Debbie entered a guilty plea so that she would “only” be sentenced to life in prison. With only a slim chance at being released on parole, Debbie had little chance at ever reuniting with her two daughters outside of prison – until a new law offered a ray of hope. Two decades after her incarceration began, California became the first state to allow domestic violence cases like Debbie’s to be reopened.
Her volunteer attorneys soon uncovered a trail of prosecutorial misconduct that began with Debbie’s arrest and that continues to the present day. Their discoveries sent Debbie’s case into the headlines and launched a movement that not only advocated for her own freedom, but that also raised a banner for battered women and the wrongfully imprisoned around the globe.