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A California woman who spent nearly two decades in prison after killing the man who had sex trafficked her as a teenager has been pardoned, state officials announced last week.
California Governor Gavin Newsom pardoned Sara Kruzan on Friday in the 1995 slaying of George Gilbert Howard, who she killed after he attempted to rape her at age 16. Howard began grooming Kruzan when she was just 11, then began trafficking her after she turned 13, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Despite her age, Kruzan was tried as an adult and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. After years of political and legal maneuvering, her sentence was subsequently reduced and she was released nearly a decade ago after serving 18 years.
Newsom said Kruzan was rehabilitated — and had “transformed her life” — during her imprisonment, noting she had been active in community service while incarcerated.
“Ms. Kruzan committed a crime that took the life of the victim,” Newsom wrote in Kruzan’s pardon. “Since then, Ms. 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.”
Efforts to reduce or minimize her sentence in the case have been underway for more than a decade.
Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan’s life sentence to 25 years to life in December 2010 and, just over two years later, Kruzan won a re-sentencing hearing. She received 15 years to life (plus an additional four years for a firearm charge enhancement) at that point.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown released Kruzan on parole in 2013, after she had spent 18 years in prison.
She relocated to Orange County after her release, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Newsom officially signed her pardon in January, expunging her record, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Criminal justice advocates across the state welcomed Newsom's decision to pardon Kruzan.
"It’s frankly outrageous that she was convicted for the length of time in the first place, given the long history of abuse and trafficking," Lenore Anderson, the founder of Californians for Safety and Justice, told the Los Angeles Times. “Sara is one of many thousands of youths who are exploited, sexually and commercially, who find themselves in the defendant’s seat when it’s more than obvious that the extreme abuse that they were suffering is what was underneath the crime."
“Yes, society’s saying it, everybody’s saying it, but the system was never held accountable,” Dolores Canales, of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, also said of Kruzan's release.
Kruzan, who is now a mother to a 7-year-old daughter, remains traumatized both by her years behind bars and the years of grooming, sexual abuse and exploitation she endured at the hands of Howard before she killed him.
“I feel like I have just kind of built my life on this quicksand, repeating patterns, repeating trauma,” Kruzan told the Los Angeles Times in March. “Definitely I don’t trust a lot of people.”
Kruzan was one of 17 prisoners to whom Newsom granted clemency this month. Since taking office in 2019, Newsom has issued a total of 129 pardons, a spokesperson for the governor’s office confirmed on Tuesday. Newsom has also granted 123 sentence commutations and 35 reprieves.
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