October 31, 2013 5:25 PM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sara Kruzan, a California woman who was sentenced to life in prison as a teenager for killing her former pimp, has been released under a new California law that allows for the resentencing of certain inmates convicted as juveniles.
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State corrections officials say Kruzan was paroled Thursday from Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla after serving 19 years.
She was 17 when she was sentenced for fatally shooting George Howard in a Riverside motel room in 1994. She said Howard sexually assaulted her at an early age and she began working for him as a prostitute at 13.
Prosecutors said the now 35-year-old Kruzan was no longer working for Howard when she killed him.
Kruzan’s case became a high-profile example used by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sought to ease life sentences for juveniles.
“It is justice long overdue,” Yee told the Los Angeles Times. He called Kruzan’s case the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around.”
Yee’s legislation became law in January and later that month, a Riverside County judge reduced Kruzan’s conviction from first-degree to second-degree murder, making her immediately eligible for parole.
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a second bill requiring parole boards to give special consideration to juveniles tried as adults who have served at least 15 years of lengthy sentences. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 prisoners already eligible for parole hearings under that new law.
Kruzan’s case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube.
The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.
“Given Ms. Kruzan’s age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan’s sentence is excessive,” Schwarzenegger wrote in his commutation message, saying, “it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age.”
Kruzan’s aunt, Ann Rogan, recently told CBS News she is “elated” about her niece’s release and planned to take her in as soon as she got out.
“Things happen to us but then we evolve and change and become stronger and we become better and that’s what has happened to Sara,” Rogen said.
Complete coverage of Sara Kruzan on Crimesider