By Amita Sharma
California Attorney General Kamala Harris has dramatically reversed herself today in the case of Sara Kruzan, who killed her pimp at age 16.
josephvbui / Youtube
Above: Sara Kruzan has spent more than half her life in a California prison for killing her pimp. Kruzan’s San Diego relatives and local advocates are pressing Gov. Jerry Brown to grant her clemency in a case they call an embarrassment to the criminal-justice system.
Kamala Harris Letter
“Ms. Kruzan’s tragic circumstances and the fact that she was a sexually exploited minor is the antithesis of what is traditionally thought of as ‘dating,'” the letter read. “But we recognize that it may be applicable here or in other cases.”
Kruzan spent the last 17 years in prison for murdering her pimp. Kruzan met the pimp when she was 11. He molested her immediately, raped her at 13 and forced her into prostitution.
Last month, the attorney general told the California Supreme Court that Kruzan’s relationship with her pimp was at best professional and financial and at worst criminal. Therefore, Harris concluded Kruzan was not a domestic violence victim.
But this week, Harris did a turnabout. She told the state’s high court that it is perverse to suggest that a minor who has been sexually abused and exploited from the age of 11 should not be entitled to at least the defense afforded an adult who has been in an abusive relationship.
The attorney general also apologized to the court for its reversal. Kruzan’s lawyers are asking for clemency or a new trial.
Kruzan grew up in Riverside amid stress and chaos. Her mother admitted bashing Kruzan’s head on the floor. Kruzan was placed in foster care for a time after bruises were discovered. Kruzan was molested for the first time at age 5 by her mom’s boyfriend. Successive boyfriends did the same, court documents show.
In a five-year-old YouTube clip, Kruzan describes the one bright spot in her life:
“In school, I excelled,” she said. “I was on the honor roll, the principal’s honor roll. I was an overachiever. I ran track. I ran for student body president.”
But her love for school could not save her. Her mother kicked her out when she was 11. Kruzan was hospitalized for attempted suicide.
That’s also when a well-known pimp George Gilbert Howard, or G.G., befriended her.
“He was like a father figure. G.G. was there and he would talk to me and take me out and give me all these lavish gifts and do all these things for free,” she said.
At 13, Kruzan was raped on school grounds by three neighborhood boys. Then, G.G. forced Kruzan into prostitution.
“He had sex with me when I was 13 … and he uses his manhood to hurt,” she said.
She went to live with her grandmother in San Diego when she was 15. At 16, she began seeing a boy whose ex-con uncle ordered her to kill G.G. Her aunt, Anne Rogan, said the order was issued with a threat.
“And this guy said to her, ‘well I want you to get G.G.’s money and I want you to shoot him and if you don’t do this, I’m going to kill your mother’; and I believe he threatened her boyfriend at the time,” Rogan said.
Kruzan went to a motel room in Riverside with G.G. Her aunt said once inside the room, Kruzan felt trapped and desperate.
“Apparently when he started to pull out a sex toy, that is when she shot him. There was a fear that gripped her of all the abuse and that’s when she shot him.”
Kruzan took his money too. Her supporters say she never stood a chance in court.
Kruzan’s defense lawyer David Gunn urged the 16-year-old to reject a plea offer that would have sent her to prison for 30 years, with time off for good behavior. She took his advice and the case went to trial.
The government put on seven witnesses over two days. Gunn, now a judge, never called an expert witness to discuss impacts of her horrific childhood, or her forced prostitution.
In fact, the only witness the defense called was Kruzan.
But her appeals attorneys say 17-year-old Kruzan was unprepared. She was depressed and medicated. She was unable to joust with a skilled prosecutor.
Kruzan’s aunt says her niece never gave her side.
“She didn’t go into any of what happened to her and I don’t know why,” Rogan said. “All I can tell you is that she has this legal team and they went back and found all these records: How she tried to commit suicide at 11; how she tried again at 13; how she was gang-raped. There are police reports.”
In 1994, Kruzan was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.
“She was a black girl from the hood,” said Nikki Junker. She directs “With More Than A Purpose,” a San Diego group which advocates for sex trafficking victims. “Nobody cared.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan’s sentence to 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole.
Kruzan has earned a bachelor’s degree in science in prison. She lives in the honor dorm at the women’s prison in Chowchilla.
Kruzan said she sorry she took G.G.’s life.
“I definitely deserve punishment,” she said. “You don’t just take someone’s life and think that’s OK.”
But she wants a shot at helping others on the outside.
“I believe I could set a positive example. I am very determined to show that no matter what you have done or where you have come from or what you have experienced in life, it’s up to you to change.”