Sara Jessimy Kruzan (born January 8, 1978), convicted offirst degree murder, is a victim of human trafficking and inmate ofCentral 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. On January 2, 2011, Kruzan was granted clemency by outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who commuted her sentence to 25 years with the possibility of parole.
Early lifeKruzan grew up in Riverside, California with her drug addict mother, where she was an honor roll student at school. During her childhood she met her father only three times because he was serving long prison terms. Since the age of 9, Kruzan has suffered from severe depression, being hospitalized because of the condition on a number of occasions.
At the age of 11, she met 31 year old Howard, calling himself "G.G.", who, it is alleged, began grooming her for a life of prostitution. By the age of 13, Kruzan became a victim of human trafficking, forced to work as a child prostitute, and subjected to sexual abuse.
Murder of George Gilbert HowardA week before the killing she had moved into a house in the Rubidouxarea belonging to convicted felon and suspected drug 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.
Arrest and trial
Kruzan was arrested inPomona on March 14 as a result, Defense 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.
Some campaigning groups have suggested that Kruzan was suffering from Battered Person Syndrome, a physical and psychological condition that often results in victims of abuse murdering their abusers. The US has been criticized by judicial reform groups, such as the National Center for Youth Law, for the frequency with which it sentences juveniles to life without parole, with Kruzan often mentioned as an example of the need for greater compassion. In February 2009, Human Rights Watch released a viral video featuring Kruzan on YouTube to highlight their campaign for a ban on sentences of life without parole for juveniles in California. Michelle Quann of change.org said that the state has the highest racial disparity rate in the US in this area of juvenile justice, and in November 2010 change.org began a petition to then-current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant Kruzan clemency before leaving office. In reaction to this case Democratic Senator, Leyland Yee of San Francisco stated, "Life without parole means absolutely no opportunity for release.... It also means minors are often left without access to programs and rehabilitative services while in prison. This sentence was created for the worst of criminals that have no possibility of reform and it is not a humane way to handle children. While the crimes they committed caused undeniable suffering, these youth offenders are not the worst of the worst."