Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Sara Kruzan has spent more than half her life in a Calif. prison for killing her pimp. Kruzan’s San Diego relatives and local advocates are pressing Gov. Jerry Brown to grant her clemency in a case they call an embarrassment to the criminal-justice system.
One of the first things Sara Kruzan did when she entered prison at 16 was to look up the words "moral" and "scruples." The judge in her murder trial had told her she had none.
Efforts are underway in San Diego and across the state on behalf of a Riverside woman serving 25 to life for murder
Ann Rogan, Sara Kruzan's aunt
Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law.
“I had no idea what moral was," Kruzan said. "I did not know what scruples meant.”
And really, Sara’s defenders argue, how could she?
Sara grew up in Riverside amid stress and chaos. Her mother admitted bashing Sara’s head on the floor. Sara was placed in foster care for a time after bruises were discovered. Sara was molested for the first time at age 5 by her mom’s boyfriend. Successive boyfriends did the same, court documents show.
In a five-year-old YouTube clip, Sara describes the one bright spot in her life:
“In school, I excelled," she said. "I was on the honor roll, the principal’s honor roll. I was an overachiever. I ran track. I ran for student body president.”
But her love for school could not save her. Her mother kicked her out when she was 11. Sara was hospitalized for attempted suicide.
That’s also when a well-known pimp George Gilbert Howard, or G.G., befriended her.
“He was like a father figure. G.G. was there and he would talk to me and take me out and give me all these lavish gifts and do all these things for free," she said.
At 13, Sara was raped on school grounds by three neighborhood boys. Then, G.G. forced Sara into prostitution.
“He had sex with me when I was 13 ... and he uses his manhood to hurt," she said.
She went to live with her grandmother in San Diego when she was 15. At 16, she began seeing a boy whose ex-con uncle ordered her to kill G.G. Her aunt, Anne Rogan, said the order was issued with a threat.
“And this guy said to her, 'well I want you to get G.G.’s money and I want you to shoot him and if you don’t do this, I’m going to kill your mother'; and I believe he threatened her boyfriend at the time," Rogan said.
Sara went to a motel room in Riverside with G.G. Her aunt said once inside the room, Sara felt trapped and desperate.
"Apparently when he started to pull out a sex toy, that is when she shot him. There was a fear that gripped her of all the abuse and that’s when she shot him.”
Sara took his money too. Her supporters say she never stood a chance in court.
Sara’s defense lawyer David Gunn urged the 16-year-old to reject a plea offer that would have sent her to prison for 30 years, with time off for good behavior. She took his advice and the case went to trial.
The government put on seven witnesses over two days. Gunn, now a judge, never called an expert witness to discuss impacts of her horrific childhood, or her forced prostitution.
In fact, the only witness the defense called was Sara.
But her appeals attorneys say 17-year-old Sara was unprepared. She was depressed and medicated. She was unable to joust with a skilled prosecutor.
Sara’s aunt says her niece never gave her side.
"She didn’t go into any of what happened to her and I don’t know why," Rogan said. "All I can tell you is that she has this legal team and they went back and found all these records: How she tried to commit suicide at 11; how she tried again at 13; how she was gang-raped. There are police reports.”
In 1994, Sara was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.
“She was a black girl from the hood," said Nikki Junker. She directs "With More Than A Purpose," a San Diego group which advocates for sex trafficking victims. "Nobody cared.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan’s sentence to 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole. Sara’s appellate lawyers want the California Supreme Court to now set her free, or grant her a retrial.
The Riverside County DA’s office says it is confident in its actions at trial, and in the jury’s verdict.
Kruzan has earned a bachelor’s degree in science in prison. She lives in the honor dorm at the women’s prison in Chowchilla.
Kruzan said she sorry she took G.G.’s life.
“I definitely deserve punishment," she said. "You don’t just take someone’s life and think that’s OK.”
But she wants a shot at helping others on the outside.
“I believe I could set a positive example. I am very determined to show that no matter what you have done or where you have come from or what you have experienced in life, it’s up to you to change.”