LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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.
Kruzan’s case became a high-profile example for advocates seeking to soften harsh prison sentences for juveniles.
“It is justice long overdue,” said state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sponsored the law that allows juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole to seek new sentencing hearings.
He called Kruzan’s case the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her.”
Yee went on to say that “a predator” had “stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around” to help or protect her.
Brown’s decision that effectively grants Kruzan’s freedom came about two weeks before deadline, spokesman Evan Westrup said Saturday. The parole board is expected to act on Monday.
Kruzan’s case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted an interview with her on YouTube.
That year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on his last full day in office, commuting her sentence to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense.
“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 reduced her murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.
Yee’s legislation juvenile sentencing legislation 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. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 prisoners already eligible for parole hearings under that new law.
Kruzan is housed at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
Her aunt told the Associated Press she wasn’t surprised by the governor’s action.
“I just wondered,” said Ann Rogen of Riverside, “why it took so long.”