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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mr. Cooley: It's time to let this woman go

259541 Twenty-five years after a Los Angeles prosecutor admitted that the key witness against her was a liar, and three years after L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley agreed to a deal that would have led to her release, Deborah Peagler is still in prison for the 1982 murder of a pimp who repeatedly beat and sexually assaulted her.
Cooley, who in 2005 had a sudden change of heart about Peagler's release, is fighting to keep her locked up at the state prison in Chowchilla despite a 2002 law allowing reconsideration of cases involving battered women.

Peagler, in a telephone interview last week, told me Cooley's flip-flop was devastating.

"I was prepared to leave here, emotionally and mentally. I was gone. I was no longer a prisoner," said the 48-year-old.

Then came word that Cooley had changed his mind after some members of his staff objected to a release. "I was shocked, numb, so disappointed once again. I still have hope. However, I don't have any faith in the system I'm in."

I was asked to look into the Peagler case not by a bleeding heart but by Sean Walsh, a Republican political consultant who works at Bingham McCutchen, a corporate law firm whose senior members include former California Gov. Pete Wilson.

Two of the firm's lawyers, Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran, have represented Peagler free for six years, trying to win her release. They believe she was guilty of voluntary manslaughter, for which she probably would have served several years and been released many years ago.

"This is about hubris and ego," Costa argued. She and Safran accuse Cooley and his staff of having fought Peagler's release to quell an internal dispute about the case, to keep up the appearance that the D.A.'s office made no mistakes in her prosecution and to avoid civil liability. [Mark Godsey]

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