Sara Jessimy Kruzan (born January 8, 1978) is an American victim and survivor of human trafficking. In 1995, at the age of 17, she was convicted of the first-degree murder of her alleged pimp, George Gilbert Howard. She was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. As a result of her status as a convicted juvenile sentenced to life without parole, Kruzan has received national attention from individuals and judicial reform groups, who advocate for a new trial. On January 2, 2011, as a result of the media attention, Kruzan was granted clemency by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who commuted her sentence to 25 years with the possibility of parole; she remained incarcerated at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. In January 2013, her sentence was reduced to second-degree manslaughter and 15 + 4 years, effectively time served, making her eligible for a parole hearing. She was found suitable for parole on June 12, 2013, and the decision was forwarded to Governor Jerry Brown. On October 25, 2013, Brown took no action on the parole board decision, thereby effectively confirming it, allowing the parole board to proceed with the parole of Kruzan. On October 31, 2013, she was paroled from Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla after serving 19 years.
Sara Kruzan was born on January 8, 1978. She was raised by her mother in Riverside, California, where she was an honor roll student at school. During her childhood, she met her father only three times because he was serving long prison terms. During her childhood, Kruzan experienced severe depression, resulting in numerous hospitalizations.
George Gilbert Howard
When Kruzan was 11 years old, she met George Gilbert "G. G." Howard. Twenty years her senior, Howard initially served as a surrogate father for Kruzan. Kruzan stated in court records that upon their introduction, he began grooming her for a life of prostitution. She also testified that by the age of 13, she became a victim of human trafficking. Under the control of Howard, she was forced to work as a child prostitute and was subjected to sexual abuse.
Murder and arrest
In March 1994, when Kruzan was 16 years old, she moved into a Rubidoux-area home belonging to James Earl Hamilton. Kruzan arranged to meet Howard on March 9 for a date and agreed to spend the night with him.[clarification needed] On March 10, Kruzan shot Howard in the neck at close range in a room at the Dynasty Suites Motel. She then took $1,500 from his wallet, as well as the keys to his Jaguar. She then went to meet Hamilton and her boyfriend, Johnny Otis in a local supermarket. Howard's body was discovered by a member of the motel's housekeeping staff. When law enforcement officials at the scene found Kruzan's identification card and purse left behind in the motel room, a warrant was issued for her arrest.
Kruzan was arrested in Pomona on March 14, 1994. During questioning, Kruzan made a confession to the police. The District Attorney of Riverside County opted to ignore the pleas for extenuating circumstances surrounding Kruzan's actions, and he sought to have her tried in an adult court for first-degree murder. An evaluation by California Youth Authority concluded she was suitable for treatment in the juvenile justice system. However, a local judge, at the urging of the prosecutor, Tim Freer, transferred her to the adult court.
Trial and sentencing
During her trial, Kruzan testified that she had killed Howard because Hamilton had ordered it and had threatened to kill both her and her mother if she did not carry out his orders. As a result, defense attorney, David Gunn, told the court of information provided to the police by Hamilton.[further explanation needed] Neither Hamilton nor Otis were charged with the crime due to a lack of legally sufficient corroborating evidence to support Kruzan's statement.
In his closing arguments at her trial, Freer cautioned jurors not to be swayed by the appearance of an attractive, petite teenager who might not fit their image of a murderer. On Thursday May 11, 1995, a Riverside Superior Court jury of seven women and five men found her guilty of first-degree murder, affirming two special circumstances – that Howard was murdered during a robbery, and that Kruzan had been lying in wait to kill him – to justify a sentencing of life, with no possibility of parole.
Judicial reform advocacy
As a result of her status as a juvenile convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole, Kruzan has been the focus of national petitions and judicial reform groups that are advocating for a retrial. Some[who?] campaigning groups have suggested that Kruzan was suffering from Battered Person Syndrome, a physical and psychological condition that often results in victims of abuse murdering their abusers.
The National Center for Youth Law has spoken out against the US, for the frequency with which it sentences juveniles to life without parole, with Kruzan often mentioned as an example of the need for greater compassion.
In February 2009, Human Rights Watch published a video on YouTube, which features Kruzan, in an effort to highlight their campaign for a ban on sentences of life without parole for juveniles in California. In November 2010, change.org began a petition to then-current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant Kruzan clemency before leaving office. In reaction to this case Democratic Senator, Leland Yee of San Francisco stated, "Life without parole means absolutely no opportunity for release.... It also means minors are often left without access to programs and rehabilitative services while in prison. This sentence was created for the worst of criminals that have no possibility of reform and it is not a humane way to handle children. While the crimes they committed caused undeniable suffering, these youth offenders are not the worst of the worst.”
- Macallair, Daniel (2008-01-20). "U.S. among harshest for sentencing children – SFGate". articles.sfgate.com. Retrieved 2010-02-03.
- Kloer, Amanda. "Ask Gov. Schwarzenegger to Release Human Trafficking Victim Sara Kruzan with Time Served". change.org. Retrieved 2010-11-15.
- "Senator Leland Yee, Ph.D. – New Life for Youth Sentencing Reform". dist08.casen.govoffice.com. Retrieved 2010-02-03.