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Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing her pimp when she was 16 years old. In a story that gained international headlines, a parole board granted Kruzan her freedom despite her life sentence. Tony Shin reports from Riverside for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013.
A Southern California woman who received a life sentence as a teenager for killing her former pimp will be allowed to go free after serving nearly 20 years behind bars.
Sara Kruzan was 17 when she was sentenced to die in prison for the 1994 shooting death of George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside motel room. She contended that he had sexually abused her and groomed her for six years to work as a child prostitute.
Gov. Jerry Brown decided against blocking a parole board's ruling that grants Kruzan freedom. She is set to be released by Saturday, according to a spokesman from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The details of Kruzan's release will be kept secret "for her safety and the safety of the public," the office said.
Kruzan's case garnered widespread notoriety in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted an interview with her on YouTube (embedded below) titled "When I Die They'll Send Me Home." And a Facebook page calling for Kruzan's release has some 3,200 followers.
In the YouTube video, Kruzan described herself as an "overachiever" who won an award for her book on drugs and their effects, a scribe inspired by her mother's addiction.
At age 11, Kruzan met the man who would become her pimp, according to the video. He groomed her into prostitution, buying her presents and taking her and her friends out on day trips, like roller skating.
Soon after, Kruzan was forced to prostitute herself for the man who came into her life as a father figure. After three years of abuse, Kruzan killed Howard.
"I'm very sorry to take his life like that. I definitely know I deserve punishment, I mean, you don’t just take somebody's life and think that it's OK," Kruzan said in the video. "So, yes, definitely deserve punishment. How much? I don’t know."
When asked what she would tell a parole board, if she could get in front of one, Kruzan said, in part: "I found the ability to believe in myself and I have a lot of good to offer."
Kruzan's case became a high-profile example for advocates seeking to soften harsh prison sentences for juveniles.
"It is justice long overdue," said state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sponsored the law that allows juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole to seek new sentencing hearings.
He called Kruzan's case the "perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her."
Yee went on to say that "a predator" had "stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around" to help or protect her.
In 2010 (the same year Kruzan's in-prison interview started to garner attention), Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on his last full day in office, commuted her sentence to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense.
"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," the governor wrote in his commutation message, "it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age."
This January, a Riverside judge reduced her murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.
Yee's juvenile sentencing legislation became law in January. In September, Brown signed a second bill requiring parole boards to give special consideration to juveniles tried as adults who have served at least 15 years. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 prisoners already eligible for parole hearings under that new law.
Now 35 years old, Kruzan is housed at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.
Her aunt told the Associated Press she wasn't surprised by the governor's action."I just wondered," said Ann Rogen of Riverside, "why it took so long.
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