As an advocate for the welfare of children, I’ve gone over and over the juvenile murder cases of Sara Kruzan and Daniel Kovarbasich, trying to understand why one youth was crushed in the name of justice while the other was set free.
The similarities between the cases of this ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are intriguing:
• A troubled 16 year old, female child-trafficking victim from a drug-involved, single-parent home kills her pimp/child rapist. The girl was an 11 year old, pre-pubescent child when she met the sexual predator who groomed her for his pleasure.
• A troubled 16 year old boy from a financially strapped, two-parent home kills his alleged molester, who also used gifts for manipulation and sexual favors. The boy was around the age of 13 when his molester began grooming him.
• Neither the boy nor the girl killed their alleged tormentor out of immediate fear of harm; rather, both killed through the eyes of a traumatized child trying to end years of unspeakable pain.
• Both the girl and the boy showed remorse for having taken the lives of the men alleged to have tormented them and stolen their childhoods.
• Both the girl and the boy were tried as adults in their respective states of California and Ohio.
But here’s where the stories diverge and raise serious concerns as to whether equity in justice is being served:
• In the girl’s case, judicial leniency was denied even though by the age of 16, she had been trafficked by two sexual predators, the second of which allegedly threatened to kill her and her mother if she hadn’t carried out his order and murdered the competing pimp.
• In the boy’s case, no evidence was presented at trial to demonstrate that his [physical] life was ever threatened by his alleged perpetrator.
• For her crime in 1994, the 16 year old urban girl was sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
• For his crime in 2010, the 16 year old suburban boy who was represented by a private team of attorneys received NO prison time – only five years’ probation.
• The girl has served 16 years and counting behind bars in an adult prison.
• The boy is free and will never serve a day behind bars for his crime. During sentencing consideration, the boy’s private attorney successfully argued, “He would be literally a boy among men. Prison is reserved for people with violent pasts, people who have been in a lot of trouble. That would be an unhealthy environment for Daniel.” Before she was trafficked, the girl was an honor student poised for great things in her life too.
This argument was certainly true in Sara’s case as well, and it holds true for thousands of juvenile offenders sentenced to adult prisons for crimes they committed under-age. Yet this plea often falls on deaf ears when it comes to meting out justice for poor, urban youths. There are many “Sara Kruzan’s” around the country due to the lack of national standards for the sentencing of juveniles for similar crimes, a void that often results in the appearance of justice being determined by factors such as the race and/or socio-economic status of the accused. In California alone, “There are approximately 225 juveniles in California serving a life without parole sentence. California has the worst racial disparity rate in the nation for sentencing juveniles to life without parole. Black youth are given this sentence at 22 times the rate of white youth.” Source: YouthLaw.Org.
Many of us are thankful that former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently granted Sara Kruzan clemency by reducing – NOT commuting — her sentence from ‘life without the possibility of parole’ to ‘25 years to life with the possibility of parole’; but, it’s arguable whether we can truly claim real victory in this case until this human trafficking victim is free.
No one’s advocating for vigilante justice or a ‘pass’ for kids who kill without the presence of imminent danger or mitigating circumstances. But there is a reason our criminal justice system makes allowances for sentencing when the details of a crime aren’t ‘black and white’. The Federal government stepped in with the “Fair Sentencing Act of 2010” and changed national guidelines for sentencing in crimes involving cocaine; a “Fair Sentencing Act” is needed now for juvenile justice so that travesties like Sara’s case do not continue.