A Southern California woman who received a life sentence as a teenager for killing her former pimp will be allowed to go free after Gov. Jerry Brown decided against blocking a parole board’s ruling that grants her freedom. Sara Kruzan was 17 when she was sentenced to die in prison for the 1994 shooting death of George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside motel room. She contended that he had sexually abused her and groomed her for six years to work as a child prostitute.
“I remember reading the headline in the Riverside newspaper. It said ‘Teen prostitute kills pimp,” Kruzan’s aunt, Ann Rogen, told CBS News.
Rogan said she had no idea of the abuse her young niece endured. “I just could not fathom, I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.”
Kruzan’s case became a high-profile example used by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sought to soften harsh life sentences for juveniles.
“It is justice long overdue,” Yee told the Los Angeles Times. He called Kruzan’s case the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around.”
Kruzan’s case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube.
The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.
“Given Ms. Kruzan’s age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan’s sentence is excessive,” the governor wrote in his commutation message, “it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age.”
This January, a Riverside judge further reduced her first-degree murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.
Yee’s legislation to allow new sentencing hearingsfor juveniles sent to prison for life without parole became law in January. In September, Brown signed a second bill requiring parole boards to give special consideration to juveniles tried as adults who have served at least 15 years of lengthy sentences. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 prisoners already eligible for parole hearings under that new law.
Brown’s decision on Kruzan’s case came nearly two weeks before the deadline for his action, Westrup said. The parole board was expected to act on the decision on Monday.
Kruzan, now 35, is housed at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
Her aunt told CBS News she is “elated” and plans to taken in Kruzan as soon as she is released.
“Things happen to us but then we evolve and change and become stronger and we become better and that’s what has happened to Sara,” Rogen said.