Sin City Law, an original 8-part documentary series that goes inside four recent criminal trials in Las Vegas, Nevada, will premiere on Sundance Channel on September 10, 2007. The series is produced by Peabody and Academy Award-winning filmmakers Denis Poncet and Jean-Xavier De Lestrade (The Staircase, Murder on a Sunday Morning) and directed by Remy Burkel. Back to back episodes of Sin City Law will air each Monday night at 9:00pm and 10:00pm ET/PT September 10th through October 1st.
Sin City Law opens a window onto a world that is only steps away from the famous strip, but rarely glimpsed from inside the casinos and mega-hotels populated by tourists: a world of drugs, gangs, depleted gamblers, and wayward club owners where what happens in Vegas stays deep inside the criminal justice system. The series travels with the public defenders' and district attorney's offices to track four separate criminal cases, each of which is covered in two one-hour episodes.
"Denis and Jean Xavier have displayed a knack for finding stories that get right to the heart of how the American justice system functions and a talent for letting the stories tell themselves" says Laura Michalchyshyn, Executive Vice President and GM Programming and Creative Affairs, Sundance Channel. "The raw and honest portrayal of what goes on during these Las Vegas trials is a hallmark of their incredible work; Sundance Channel is proud to be working with them again."
Sin City Law captures the unfolding emotion and suspense of a criminal proceeding as it occurs, moving from strategy sessions to witness interviews; from jailhouse meetings to courtroom proceedings. In the process, the series offers a fascinating portrait of crime and punishment in Las Vegas, the county seat of Clark County, Nevada. The past two decades have seen this desert town reinvent itself as a plush vacation oasis offering adult hedonism alongside family-friendly entertainment. That transformation has fueled a population boom that has made Las Vegas one of America's fastest-growing cities. Las Vegas is now ranked among the top 30 most populous American cities, and crime statistics have come to resemble those of older metropolitan areas. Nevada leads the nation in crystal meth use and recent years have also brought a surge in gang activity; there are nearly 9,500 gang members in the county, where Los Angeles-bred enemies the Crips and the Bloods have established outposts.
Yet in the midst of big city crime, the Las Vegas criminal justice system retains a small-town character. Lawyers on both sides of each case seem like crusaders on a mission. The series' 'squad' of characters includes not only the attorneys, but also the judges, investigators, defendants and victims, and their respective families.
In conjunction with Sin City Law, Sundance Channel will present two other works by De Lestrade and Poncet in September, including the Sundance Channel premiere of their Oscar-winning 2001 documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning. Directed by De Lestrade and produced by Poncet, the film follows the trial of a black teenager charged in the shooting death of a 65-year-old white woman at a Florida motel. Sundance Channel will also reprise the eight-part documentary miniseries The Staircase, which chronicles the sensational arrest and trial of author Michael Peterson, accused of murdering his wife in December 2001. Murder on a Sunday Morning airs on Monday, September 3rd at 11:00pm. The Staircase airs in two-episode installments Friday nights at 6:00pm September 7th - 28th.
The episode lineup for Sin City Law is as follows:
"Butchered Innocence" Part 1 - On January 22, 2003, brother and sister teenage meth-heads Beau and Monique Maestas set out to take revenge on a duplicitous drug dealer. Armed with knives, they attacked the woman's two young daughters, killing one and leaving the other paralyzed for life. Beau pled guilty, shouldering blame for the stabbings in hopes of saving his sister from the most serious charges. Three years later, Beau's penalty hearing is about to begin, and Chief Deputy District Attorney David Schwartz and District Attorney David Roger are seeking the death penalty. With their client's life at stake, Beau's defense attorneys Tom Ericcson and Jim Oronos must persuade the jury to consider the case's mitigating circumstances, particularly the horrific childhood the Maestas children suffered with their abusive, drug- dealing mother and father, a convicted murderer. Monique's attorneys, Special Public Defenders David M. Schieck and Alzora Jackson, pay close attention to Beau's trial while preparing for their client's trial, which will immediately follow Beau's. Working with SPD Investigator Maribel Rosales and Monique's older sister Misty, Jackson delves into the dark details of the Maestas' family's life.
"Butchered Innocence" Part 2 - The jury pronounces sentence on Beau Maestas on the very day that jury selection is to begin for his sister Monique's trial. As she works on one of the most troubling cases of her career, Jackson counsels Monique as she would one of her own daughters. A plea bargain will save the young woman from life without the possibility of parole, but the conditions demanded by District Attorney Roger may be more than Monique is willing to accept.
"Skin Tone" Part 1 - In 2002, five members of the Crips street gang were driving around North Las Vegas when they spotted a rival gang member and went after him. As the ensuing chase spilled into an apartment courtyard, shots were fired and 9-year-old Genesis Gonzales was killed. Pascual Lozano, the sole Hispanic in the Crips crew, was charged, convicted and sentenced to death. An automatic repeal has resulted in a new trial, in which Lozano will be represented by defense attorney Bret Whipple and Special Public Defender Ivette Morales. Lozano steadfastly maintains his innocence, but will not implicate any of his "homeys" who were with him that day. Adding to the layers of complication, Lozano grew up as a de facto family member of the intended victim, Robert "Chucky B." Valentine. For the defense and the prosecution, the case comes down to eyewitness accounts, and the simple question: what color was the shooter's skin? As the Deputy District Attorneys Vicki Monroe and David Stanton begin presenting their case, they find themselves stymied by some of the same witnesses who helped them win the first trial in 2003.
"Skin Tone" Part 2 - Special Public Defender Ivette Morales and SPD Investigator James Aleman travel to Los Angeles in search of two eyewitnesses to the 2002 shooting. Defense attorney Whipple consults with firearms experts as he follows up on potentially exculpatory testimony given by the victim's sister. Tonya Baker, the stepmother of the intended victim, takes the witness stand on Lozano's behalf, but her testimony has unintended consequences for the defense. Brought together by tragedy, the Lozano and Gonzales families offer one another support.
"Bourbon Strip" Part 1 - On the night of January 27, 2006, a distraught 71-year-old man named De Rac Hanley phoned 911 to report that he had murdered someone in his apartment at an assisted living facility. Though Hanley remembered little at the time, it emerged that the victim was one of Hanley's elderly neighbors, Earl Spangenberg. Hanley's attorneys, public defenders Curtis Brown and Andrea Luem, quickly realize they have their work cut out for them with this particular client, a colorful Irish drifter with a troubled past, a prodigious drinking habit and an often tenuous grip on reality. Hanley now claims that he killed in self-defense after Spangenberg made sexual advances. At one point he asserts that he must have been drugged; in fact, Hanley had already taken two morphine tablets and begun drinking when Spangenberg knocked on his door. A full account of what happened that night may never be known, but it is certain that Spangenberg was stabbed over 20 times in the face, neck and chest. While Brown and Luem try to untangle Hanley's life story, young Deputy District Attorneys Summer Tanasi and Sonia Jimenez begin preparing their case, intending to try the septuagenarian just as they would a 30-year-old who had committed the same crime.
"Bourbon Strip" Part 2- Hanley's trial gets underway, with the likeable Judge Jackie Glass presiding. Hanley's ex-wife and adult daughter attend his trial, a reminder of a happier chapter in his life. Deputy District Attorney Summer Tanasi puts on a tight case, walking the jury through the crime and its aftermath as she calls various witnesses, including the patrol officer who arrested Hanley and the detectives who questioned him. Brown and Luem continue their search for potential witnesses, and interview the apartment manager along with two of Hanley's regular drinking buddies. The case finally reaches the jury, with the state pressing for a verdict of first degree murder, and the defense pleading for manslaughter.
"Within Reach" Part 1- In the early morning hours of July 23, 2005, a young Asian American man named Wei Liu was shot and killed in a parking lot outside a Las Vegas strip club; also injured was Kristian Wong Wui, Liu's fellow passenger in an SUV driven by Amir Mogadam, who was not injured. The next day, Jesus "Zeus" Vega turned himself in as the shooter, accompanied by his friend Brian Baker, a witness to the event. Vega and Baker were both charged with murder, and both assert that Vega, a former Marine, fired in self-defense. The shooting was caught on surveillance videotape, but there is plenty of ambiguity in the grainy black-and-white images of the encounter between three pedestrians (Vega, Baker, and a female companion) and Mogadam's SUV. After 17 months of delays, the Vega/Baker trial gets underway with the State of Nevada's case, argued by Deputy District Attorneys Linda Lewis and Danae Adams. A critical witness is the SUV's driver, Mogadam; however, following a combative cross-examination by Vega's defense attorney Dominic Gentile, Mogadam fails to turn up for a second day of testimony.
"Within Reach" Part 2 - The Vega/Baker trial proceeds, but Mogadam's absence has raised the possibility of a mistrial. Dominic Gentile begins his presentation of Vega's defense with an appearance by a California police officer who had investigated the late Wei Liu several years earlier. Brian Baker and Zeus Vega give emotional testimony as they take the stand in their own defense. With families on both sides of the aisle looking on, closing arguments are presented by defense and prosecution teams, including passionate pleas by Baker's attorney Christopher Oram and Deputy D.A. Adams.