A California woman who was forced into prostitution when she was 13 has been pardoned for killing her former pimp when she was 16. In a case widely seen as a miscarriage of justice, Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1995, the year after she shot George Gilbert Howard in a motel room, CBS reports. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the sentence to life with the possibility of parole in 2011. In 2013, under former Gov. Jerry Brown, the conviction was reduced from first degree to second-degree murder and Kruzan was released, having served 18 years.
At her trial, Kruzan testified that another pimp had threatened to kill her if she didn't kill Howard. Since the killing, Kruzan has "transformed her life and dedicated herself to community service," Gov. Gavin Newsom's office said in a statement, per CNN. "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." The govenor's office said the pardon won't expunge the conviction, but it will "remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service" and "restore civic rights and responsibilities," the Desert Sun reports.
Kruzan has said Howard started grooming her at age 11 and sexually abused her before he became her pimp, "forcing her to have sex with 11 men on her first night on the streets in Hollywood and Orange County," writes Anita Chabria at the Los Angeles Times. Before a 2017 change in the law, "California often considered trafficked children to be willing sex workers" and the state "ignored the prison pipeline that locks up girls for being victims of abuse and trafficking," Chabria writes. She notes that in the years after Kruzan was freed, background checks became a "giant roadblock" when she applied for jobs or tried to rent apartments. (Read more California stories.)