French documentarians Denis Poncet and Jean-Xavier De Lestrade, who have shown a Wiseman-like knack for burrowing into the daily lives of law enforcement and the justice system in their Oscar-winning film Murder on a Sunday Morning and their Peabody Award–winning eight-part The Staircase, have produced a new nonfiction series that will start airing next week on the Sundance Channel. It’s called Sin City Law, and it thrillingly goes behind the scenes of four criminal trials in Las Vegas, presented here not as a neon-blazing mecca of capitalist-sanctioned, ad-supported debauchery, but as a city struggling with the more grim byproducts of a population boom: a bump-up in harrowing crime.
In the first story, the two-part “Butchered Innocence,” we track special public defender Alzora Jackson — a feisty and exasperated advocate with a mother’s compassion but a realist’s mindset — as she works on behalf of her client, adolescent meth addict Monique Maestas. Three years prior, Monique and her brother Beau, in a crystal-fueled act of revenge, brutally knife-attacked the young daughters of a drug dealer, killing one and paralyzing the other. Beau accepted responsibility for the stabbings to save his sister from the brunt of the worst charges. But will the horrific circumstances of the Maestas’ childhood — too numerous to recount here, but they start with a convicted-murderer father and life lessons seemingly culled from a prison handbook — give the now eerily polite, frightened-animal-eyed Monique a shot at life with a chance for parole?
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This isn’t Dateline territory. There are no “one dark and stormy night”–style correspondent narrators, no dramatic re-enactments, no empty suspense build-ups or convenient moralizing. Just an effortlessly propulsive narrative of jail powwows, phone-call negotiations, strategy sessions, office chitchat and courtroom dread that reminds us that behind every tabloid story is a chance for the system to prove exactly how it works.