Monday, 24 October 2011

Why can’t they just set her free?

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger granted clemency on January 2, 2011, to Sara Kruzan, a woman who, at the age of 16, shot dead George Gilbert Howard, her alleged pimp. Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan’s life sentence without the possibility of parole to life to 25 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole, saying that her life sentence was “excessive.
In one of his last acts as governor, Schwarzenegger gave the young woman a chance at a life that she has been repeatedly denied but so rightfully deserves.
Arnold Schwarzenegger
The social media blitz on Kruzan’s behalf was organized by two California anti-trafficking activists and members, Nikki Junker and Barbie Magoffin. Like the more than 50,000 people who have signed petitions calling for Kruzan’s release, they were shocked when they heard that 16-year-old young woman, who met her rapist at just 13, had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole — without the possibility of redemption — for killing her oppressor.
Of course, it’s not as if Kruzan didn’t deserve prison time. Murder is wrong. No exceptions — and Kruzan herself admits as much. “I definitely know I deserve punishment,” she says in a video that’s received more than 300,000 hits on YouTube. “I mean, you don’t just take somebody’s life and think that it’s okay.”

Sara Jessimy Kruzan (born January 8, 1978), convicted of first degree murder, is a victim of human trafficking and inmate of Central California Women’s Facility, Chowchilla. In 1994, at the age of 16, she was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole after being convicted of murdering her alleged pimp, George Gilbert Howard.
She grew up in Riverside, California, in the home of a drug-addicted mother who frequently abused her. During her childhood she met her father only three times because he was serving long prison terms. Despite all these, she excelled in school, making the principal’s Honor Roll consistently, running track, winning a Young Author’s Award for a book on the effects of drugs.
At the age of 11, she met 31 year old Howard, calling himself “G.G.”, who became a father figure in the life of Kruzan and her friends, taking them to the roller skating rink, movies, etc. He told her that she was “so special” that she should never give away sex for free, then groomed her for 2 years to be a prostitute and then raped her. At 13, she became a human trafficking victim, and worked from 6pm-6am to make money for her father figure turned pimp, until one day she snapped and killed “G.G.”
A week before the killing she had moved into a house in the Rubidoux area belonging to convicted felon and suspected drugs dealer, James Earl Hamilton. Kruzan arranged to meet Howard on March 9 for a date and agreed to spend the night with him. 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 car and went to meet Hamilton and her then boyfriend Johnny Otis in a local supermarket. Her identification card and purse had been left in the motel room and were later found by the chamber maid who discovered Howard’s body. Kruzan told the police four days later and admitted her guilt on the defense stand. During her trial she told the court 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.
Kruzan was arrested in Pomona on March 14 as a result, Defence Attorney, David Gunn, told the court, of information provided to the police by Hamilton. Neither Hamilton nor Otis were charged with the crime due to a lack of legally sufficient corroborating evidence to support Kruzan’s statement.
After her arrest the District Attorney of Riverside County opted to ignore the pleas for extenuating circumstances surrounding Kruzan’s actions, and sought to have her tried in an adult court for first degree murder. An evaluation by California Youth Authority concluded she was amenable to treatment in the juvenile justice system. However, a local judge, at the urging of the prosecutor, Tim Freer, transferred her to the adult court. In his closing arguments at her trial, Freer cautioned jurors not to be swayed by the appearance of an attractive, petite teenager who may 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 no-parole life term. Judge J. Thompson Hanks described her crime as ‘well thought out’, stating that ‘what is striking about this is the lack of moral scruple’ before sentencing her to life without parole.
After her arrest and conviction the judge denied Sara Kruzan’s right to be sentenced as a juvenile. At 16 years old Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison -WITHOUT PAROLE.
During her incarceration she has completed vocational training classes, led and formed committees that educate and mentor youth prisoners to prepare them for release, held various employment positions and won accolades and commendations from her prison guards, and has publicly admitted that what she did was wrong. She was even once named Prisoner of the Year by the correctional officers.
Furthermore, in a petition filed this summer on Sara’s behalf, her lawyers provided substantial evidence that Sara’s trial proceedings and the court’s understanding of sentencing guidelines were both flawed, resulting in an unjust sentence of life without parole. During her trial, no evidence or expert testimony was provided to show context to the jury about the impact that physical and sexual abuse—both before and after she was trafficked—had on her mental state at the time of the shooting.
Since her incarceration 15 years ago, Sara has filed numerous court petitions to review her case that detail how her right to due process had been violated during her trial, and the sentencing guidelines that resulted in her lifetime imprisonment were misinformed.

Is justice is being served by continuing to incarcerate a woman who has served 16 years as a model prisoner? All evidence points strongly to the fact at 32 years old, Kruzan is a resilient, compassionate and brave woman who could make significant contributions to society. This is a woman who has not let her past or her life circumstances define her.
Today, at the age of 32, she is still incarcerated in a state prison in Chowchilla, Calif. Though her life sentence without parole has been commuted to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole, I think the 16 years she has spent in jail is more than ample punishment. Why can’t they just set her free? Justice, in my opinion, has already been served. Let’s pray for her freedom!

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