Update: On January 2, 2011, Gov. Schwarzenegger commuted Sara's sentence to 25 years to life. While it wasn't the release many advocates were hoping for, his decision to grant clemency means Sara now has a hope of being released from prison. Thank you to everyone who supported her and participated in this campaign.
Sixteen-year-old human trafficking victim Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without parole when, in a desperate act to escape captivity, she shot her pimp. When Sara met G.G., the 31-year-old man who would become her pimp, she was only 11. G.G. groomed Sara two years before he raped her. By then, his control was complete and he forced her into prostitution. Sara and the other girls who G.G. exploited were out on the streets from 6pm to 6am, every night. Twelve hours a night, seven days a week, for three years, Sara was raped by strangers so G.G. could profit. After three years, she snapped, and she killed him.
Now 32, Sara has spent half her life in prison as a model prisoner, and has asked Gov. Schwarzenegger for clemency. Sara was arrested and tried in 1994, before anyone was using the term "human trafficking" and when the country was still struggling to understand issues like domestic violence and pimp control that give one person coercive control over another. So there was no expert witness at Sara's trial to explain how her years of repeated rape, trauma, and abuse had affected her actions. There was no expert to tell the jury that with counseling, support, and care, Sara could heal from her traumatic past and grow to be a strong and moral woman.
Sara's clemency plea has been submitted to Gov. Schwarzenegger, and the decision of whether or not to release her with time served rests solely with him. Sara Kruzan deserves hope. She deserves hope that she didn't survive being raped and sold for three years for nothing. She deserves hope that the darkest chapter of her life has passed, and a horizon lies ahead. She deserves hope that she can change, grow, and flourish as a woman. But in life without parole, there is no hope.
Tell Gov. Schwarzenegger that human trafficking victims deserve support and care, not prison. Ask him to release Sara with time served.
Sara was just two months past her 16th birthday when she shot and killed a well-known pimp who sexually abused her since she was 11 and prostituted her since she was 13. Now 32 years old, Sara has spent more than half her life in prison. She has been a model inmate, and has earned her college education, and received a 2009 Honor Dorm "Woman of the Year" award from corrections officers.
Prior to her incarceration, Sara grew up in Riverside, California where she excelled in school, making the honor roll and running track. But starting at a young age, Sara was a victim of regular abuse: she was molested by several men, gang-raped by neighbors, physically and emotionally abused by her mother, and then abused and manipulated by her pimp. Two nationally known experts have determined that Sara was suffering from the effects of intimate partner battering when she committed the crime.
Despite being only 16 and having no criminal record, Sara was tried as an adult and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. At the time of her sentencing, the California Youth Authority found Sara amenable to treatment. Had the court followed this recommendation, Sara would have been released at age 25.
Even while her youth, abuse, and trauma help to mitigate her offense, Sara expresses remorse for her crime. In a 2007 Human Rights Watch interview, she reflects:
I definitely know that I deserve punishment. You don’t just take someone’s life and think it’s okay…I am very sorry to take his life like that…If I had a parole hearing, I would want to tell the people that, first of all, I have learned what moral scruples are. Second, that every day is a challenge, but I realize that…I have a lot of good to offer. Now the person who I am today, at 29, I believe that I could set a positive example…
The terrible crimes committed by youth can take and ruin lives. Yet we believe that the sentencing choices in California should reflect the circumstances of the offender as well as the nature of the crime, and leave open the possibility that a person redeem herself. This is especially true of youth. As the United States Supreme Court re-affirmed earlier this year, youth are different from adults, and thus a life without parole sentence is “an especially harsh sentence for juveniles.”
Sara is not the same person that she was at age 16. Considering her background of trauma and abuse, her young age at the time of the offense, and her rehabilitation over the last 16 years, I ask that you commute her sentence to time served.