As a teenager, Sara Kruzan was convicted of killing the man who sexually molested and trafficked her.
A child of a broken home, the man she knew as GG, or George Howard, was an ad-hoc father figure to Kruzan. But he gradually began to sexually abuse her and groomed her for sex work starting at age 11. At 13, he forced her onto the streets to work. At 16, in 1994, she shot and killed him under the orders of a boyfriend’s ex-con uncle, who threatened to kill both Kruzan and her mother if she didn’t go through with it.
When the case came to trial, there were problems: first, she would be tried as an adult, at 17, for a crime she committed as a 16-year-old child, at 16. Then, the judge banned her lawyer from introducing evidence during the trial of Howard’s past abuse.
Kruzan was found guilty, and languished in prison under a life sentence. In 2011, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted her sentence to life with the possibility of parole. In 2013 she was paroled and released from jail, but she still carried the murder conviction. She had already spent 18 years in prison.
Last Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom pardoned her, along with 16 people, the Los Angeles Times reports. Many of the pardons were for people who committed their crimes at a young age, or for drug offenses.
A pardon doesn’t throw out a conviction, and Kruzan is still a convicted felon in California. But the pardon will relieve Kruzan of some of the everyday consequences of a criminal conviction.
In his pardon, Newsom said that Kruzan had “provided evidence that she is living an upright life and has demonstrated her fitness for restoration of civic rights and responsibilities.”
Newsom continued, “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.”
Kruzan’s lawyers are taking things one step further, asking the Riverside County District Attorney’s office to review Kruzan’s case and throw out her criminal conviction. If the D.A. agrees, Kruzan would have no criminal record at all.
Kruzan told the Times receiving the pardon felt like “releasing these invisible chains that I didn’t realize were still taloned in me.”
Kruzan, whose memoir, I Cried to Dream Again, was published earlier this year, asked, “Do I wanna move forward with love? Or do I wanna move forward with fear, anger and pain? Now, I wanna move forward in love. And that takes a lot of courage to do that.”
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