LOS ANGELES — California Gov. Jerry Brown has decided to allow freedom to a woman who received a life sentence when she was a teenager for killing her former pimp.
Brown decided late Friday not to take action on a state parole board’s decision to grant parole to Sara Kruzan, thereby allowing the decision to go into effect, his spokesman Evan Westrup said Saturday.
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 sexually abused her and had groomed her since she was 11 to work for him as a child prostitute.
Her case became a high-profile example used by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sought to soften harsh life sentences for juveniles.
“It is justice long overdue,” Yee told the Los Angeles Times. He called Kruzan’s case the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around.”
Kruzan’s case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube.
The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.
“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 further reduced her first-degree murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.
Yee’s legislation to allow new sentencing hearings for juveniles sent to prison for life without parole 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 of lengthy sentences. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 prisoners already eligible for parole hearings under that new law.
Brown’s decision on Kruzan’s case came nearly two weeks before the deadline for his action, Westrup said. The parole board was expected to act on the decision on Monday.
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 why it took so long,” Ann Rogen of Riverside said.