A retrial could soon be granted to child sex trafficking victim Sara Jessimy Kruzan, who is currently serving her 18th year in prison for conviction of first degree murder after shooting and killing her pimp at age 16. The new trial could lead to Kruzan’s release from prison, cutting short her current sentence of 25 years with the chance of parole (reduced in 2011 from her original 1995 sentence of life in jail).
Although Kruzan’s case has since helped combat modern-day slavery in California, such as with the recent landslide passing of Proposition 35 – Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (an anti-human trafficking law increasing penalties of those convicted of sex trafficking), Riverside District Attorney Paul Zellerbach has now postponed Kruzan’s fate for the second time since the possibility of a retrial was granted this summer. Zellerbach was originally set to give his decision Sept. 18, but was subsequently granted two extensions. Kruzan, 34, her family and the general public crusading for her release currently await Zellerbach’s decision that was most recently scheduled to be made Nov. 18.
Sara’s aunt, Anne Rogan, weighed in with me in an exclusive interview on life with Sara prior to Sara’s involvement in sex trafficking with her pimp, George Gilbert “G.G.” Howard, and how new anti-human trafficking legislation would have changed her fate, had it been enacted during Kruzan’s 1994 trial.
The Abolish Slavery Coalition: Did you meet George Gilbert “G.G.” Howard, Sara’s pimp who she shot and killed?
Anne Rogan: When Sara was 11 years old, I drove to her mother’s house where she lived to pick her up for an outing. When I pulled up in the driveway, her mother was standing there with a tall guy and said, “I want you to meet G.G. He’s a family friend.” I was cordial but wary when we shook hands, and felt the same way thereafter about his and Sara’s relationship and what was probably going on.
Abolish Slavery: How did your relationship with Sara change after you met G.G.?
Rogan: Sara and I went on like before, but I could tell something was going on – she became distant. Two or three months after I met G.G., Sara called me and said G.G. bought her a gold chain. I was stunned; this guy was 33 years old – she was 11. I talked with her mother about the gold chain and it didn’t go well. She basically told me to mind my own business. I didn’t hear anything more about G.G. until he was killed. I did meet him and I know that he was in her life since age 11. I read in the writ of habeas corpus that G.G. molested Sara, bought her jewelry and took her out with her friends. That was news to me, but I can’t say that I was completely surprised because I did of course know for a fact that he gave her the gold chain and continued to groom her for a life of sex trafficking.
Abolish Slavery: How would you describe Sara before her conviction?
Rogan: Sara was always a happy, bubbly child. She liked being around my family, because it was like her own family since her father wasn’t around and her mother wasn’t in the best state to be a parent. My parents were involved with Sara off-and-on. The lifestyle her mother lived was not conducive to us having regular visits with her because we didn’t always know where she was living. We’d take Sara to different events or we’d see her on some Christmases. Every Christmas, if we had her address that year, my father made a point of sending her a gingerbread house. Around age 11 or 12, she became different from that typically happy, bubbly child I always knew. I didn’t know what went on that changed her, but she was definitely different – there was an overbearing sense of anger within her that was never there before. I believe she was angry at the lifestyle her mother was living and the fact that her father wasn’t around.
Abolish Slavery: What is Sara’s relationship with her father like now?
Rogan: Sara and her father have been in communication on a regular basis since she’s been in prison. They’ve written and talked on the phone during her sentence she’s serving. Sara wants the past to be the past and to have a relationship with her father – well, as much as you can let the past be the past. I know that will be difficult for her. But that’s what’s incredible about Sara – her desire and devotion to move forward even in spite of the unbearable situation and life she’s endured for so long now.
Abolish Slavery: Many of Sara’s original fellow inmates were serving short-term sentences, while she was sentenced to life in prison. How did these inmates react to Sara and her sentence?
Rogan: In 2005 or 2006, Sara met Kim Deanne in jail. It was unusual because you typically don’t have an “in-lifer” jailed with a short-term person like Kim. Sara shared her story with Kim and Kim said she’ll do whatever it takes to get Sara out of prison. Kim started as a lone advocate for Sara’s new trial, and is now behind the movement pushing for Sara’s release. It was around that time that Sara got a new panel of lawyers who are now pushing that intimate partner battering was not presented at her original trial, which had a lot to do with the decision in her original sentencing.
Abolish Slavery: How has what happened to Sara affected your family?
Rogan: The effect has been heartbreaking. Both of Sara’s grandparents, one of her favorite cousins and my own son have passed away since she’s been in jail serving a sentence she has no business serving. There is no reasoning that supports her absence during their passings and that is heartbreaking, just heartbreaking.
Abolish Slavery: What personal growth have you seen in Sara since her sentencing?
Rogan: Her sentencing was so abrupt, and the trial, too. The trial – a murder trial – was only two days. That’s unbelievable. I’ve seen remarkable growth in Sara through our correspondence. Her growth is incredible considering that excelling in prison can be difficult to do. Sara has been an inspiration to other young girls in prison who have gone through similar issues and circumstances. Sara has helped them and counseled them, according to guards, and awards Sara’s received in prison speak for her growth, too. Sara is in the honors dorm and is very well liked by the guards and inmates who are there.
Abolish Slavery: What supports the campaign for Sara’s release?
Rogan: Sara needs to be given a second chance because she originally wasn’t given an opportunity to share her side. She may not have even thought that anyone would have listened to her, had she been given the chance, because, in 1994 during her trial, sex trafficking wasn’t even in our national vocabulary. “Teen prostitute killed pimp” is what the headline of the local paper read at the time. We know today, clearly, that Sara was in no way whatsoever a “teen prostitute” – she was prostituted. Sara was sexually exploited by means of coercion. It wasn’t even called “statutory rape” at the time, which would have been correct. A 30-something-year-old man had sex with a child – how is that not statutory rape? Now, thankfully, with human trafficking awareness, people know that Sara’s case was and is an actual problem – today, that problem is called “sex trafficking.” Today, right now, at any corner, there are kids walking what they call the “track,” just like what G.G. forced Sara to do. People ask – and this is sad but so relevant – how could you not be aware of or know what sex trafficking is? Well, those of us who haven’t grown up in a neighborhood like Sara haven’t been exposed to such unfortunate matters that would have given us awareness through a first-hand experience. So, without a similar experience or upbringing, how would any of us really know?
Additional Sara Kruzan coverage by the Abolish Slavery Coalition:
- Life After Jail: Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan’s future plans
- Sara Kruzan sentence reduced; eligible for parole this year
- Breaking News: Sara Kruzan hearing postponed
- Settlement reached for child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan
About the Author
Melissa Grace Hoon is the Managing Editor for the Abolish Slavery Coalition. She is a victim advocate and a human rights journalist with a Master’s degree in American studies where she focused on slavery, gendered violence and victimization. She is a freelance reporter for the Orange County Register and volunteers with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.