California Woman Receives Pardon 27 Years After Killing Abuser as a Teenager

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Image: screenshot of KPBS YouTube video.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has pardoned a woman, who was convicted of killing her abuser, and serving almost 20 years in prison , reports USA Today.

Sara Kruzan, now 44, was just 16 when she shot George G. Howard who was 36, as he attempted to sexually assault her at a motel in Riverside. Howard had started being sex-trafficking her at the age of 13.

In her official pardon, Newsom wrote that Kruzan has “transformed her life and dedicated herself to community service. This act of clemency for Ms. Kruzan does not minimize or forgive her conduct or the harm it caused. It does recognize the work she has done since to transform herself.”

Back in 1994, Kruzan shot Howard through the neck, taking his $1,500 cash and his sports car in her escape. The following year, she was tried as an adult and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole following her conviction of first-degree murder at the age of 17.

Kruzan’s case was highly criticized for how the courts treated children who were survivors of abuse. Advocates of criminal justice reform argued that the judge did not display enough compassion for Kruzan and did not allow evidence about her abuse to be considered during her trial, reported The Los Angeles Times.

During his tenure, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan’s sentence to 25 years to life in 2010. In 2013, Kruzan was resentenced to 15 years to life for second-degree murder plus a four-year firearm enhancement, a total term of 19 years to life. Gov. Jerry Brown, released her from prison in 2013, after she served 18 years in prison.

Newsom also wrote that Kruzan “has provided evidence that she is living an upright life and has demonstrated her fitness for restoration of civic rights and responsibilities.”

In May, Kruzan released her memoir, I Cried to Dream Again: Trafficking, Murder, and Deliverance, in which she chronicled how she was abused, groomed and trafficked for sex from the age 1of 1 to the age of 16. She also received the Stoneleigh Fellowship, which funds efforts to transform systems that directly impact youth, from the nonprofit organization Human Rights for Kids.

Kruzan, who now is an advocate for prison reform, released a statement expressing her relief and surprise at the announcement of the pardon

“I will never forget what happened that night and fully acknowledge what I did, but I am immensely grateful to feel some relief from the burden of shame and social stigma,” she said. She added that she “felt an overwhelming influx of emotions: primarily awe and elation but also shock and grief” as she thought “about everything that led to this moment.”

Kruzan’s pardon was one of 17 that Newsom announced on Friday, along with 15 commutations and one medical reprieve, according to his office.

Newsom has granted a total of 129 pardons, 123 commutations, and 35 reprieves since taking office in January 2019.

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