Sixteen-year-old human trafficking victim Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without parole when, after years of sexual, physical and mental abuse, 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 34, 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.
Last year Sara's clemency plea was submitted to Gov. Schwarzenegger, in which he granted clemency by commuting Sara's sentence to Life with parole. Although, reducing Sara's sentence provided her with hope that she would eventually be freed, it is not justice and does not go far enough. Many petitioners along with myself feel that Sara has served more than enough time and that Time Served should be granted.
The decision of whether or not to release Sara with time served rests solely with Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach. Sara Kruzan has spent the past 18 years in prison and deserves freedom. After surviving being raped and sold for three years as a child she deserves a chance to be a free woman, now.
Tell Riverside DA Paul Zellerbach, Gov. Brown, and California Attorney General Kamala Harris that human trafficking victims deserve support and care, not prison. Ask them to release Sara with time served.
For more info visit:
Paul Zellerbach's email: firstname.lastname@example.org
3960 Orange Street, Riverside, CA 92501
Ph: (951) 955-5400
- Women's Commission (County of Riverside)
- California State Attorney General
Kamala G. Harris
- Riverside County District Attorney
- President of the United States
- California Governor
I am writing to urge you to grant clemency to Sara Kruzan, and commute her life with the possibility of parole sentence to time served. Sara’s sentence of life with parole is too extreme and disproportionate to her youth and the circumstances surrounding her crime, and fails to reward the remarkable personal growth and transformation that she has demonstrated during her 18 years in prison.
In Sara’s writ of habeas corpus you will discover that by age five, she was molested. By age nine, she suffered from severe depression. By age ten, she was molested again. At age eleven, Sara won the Young Author’s award for her book about drugs and their effects; that was also the year her mother introduced Sara to her trafficker. By age twelve, she was raped by her mentor. At thirteen, she gang raped. By age fifteen, she had attempted suicide five times.
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 sold her for his commercial gain since she was 13. Now 34 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, made the honor roll and ran track. But starting at a young age, Sara was a victim of regular abuse: she was molested; raped; physically and emotionally abused by her mother; and then abused and manipulated by her pimp. Two nationally known experts who recently evaluated Sara have concluded that she was suffering from the effects of what is known as intimate partner battering and the trauma of significant childhood abuse 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 plus 4 years. 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.”
It is crucial to recognize Sara was at an age when her brain was still going through the developmental storms of adolescence. During the last decade in particular, studies have shown that teenage brains are still changing rapidly, particularly in the areas that govern control of behavior.
The state of California has spent nearly a million dollars of tax payer funds to incarcerate Sara Jessimy Kruzan. Sara is not a threat to Californians. In Sara's clemency petition she writes, “the woman I am today is … capable of making healthy choices for myself. … today I can and do lead a life of example for others.” Sara Kruzan can and will positively contribute to society; she brings hope and courage to victims and survivors of child abuse and human trafficking globally.
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 18 years, I ask that you commute her sentence to time served. Please grant this survivor her freedom for the first time in her life.
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