Life After Jail: Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan’s future plans

There used to be no talk of the future for Sara Kruzan. In fact, she arguably had no future at all.

That all changed when it was revealed in a Riverside Superior Court hearing Jan. 18 that Kruzan, a child sex trafficking victim who was once sentenced to life in prison, is eligible for parole this year.

“I can finally exhale. We can all finally exhale,” said Anne Rogan, Kruzan’s aunt, referring to Kruzan’s family and the innumerable human rights activists around the world lobbying for Sara’s freedom.

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan, who is serving her nineteenth consecutive year in prison for killing her pimp in 1994, is eligible for parole this year.

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan, who is serving her nineteenth consecutive year in prison for killing her pimp in 1994, is eligible for parole this year.

Kruzan, who has been incarcerated for 19 consecutive years, will likely be released from jail within a few months. Members of Kruzan’s family, including Rogan, her legal team and even Sara herself (via teleconference) were present at the hearing where it was revealed that Kruzan’s sentence has been reduced to 15 years plus four years with parole eligibility.

Kruzan was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 for killing her pimp in Riverside, Calif., the prior year at age 16. Her pimp, George Gilbert “G.G.” Howard, had groomed Kruzan for prostitution since age 11, then raped, beat and sold her for sex starting when she was 13.

In 1995, Riverside Superior Court Judge J. Thompson Hanks sentenced Kruzan to life in prison. In 2011, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan’s sentence to 25 years with the chance of parole. Kruzan requested a retrial last summer, which has seen several extensions and no official decision.

Kruzan’s legal team and the Riverside Court revealed that a tentative proposed settlement had been reached, which was to be disclosed in a hearing Jan. 11. The hearing was postponed to Jan. 18 where it was announced that Kruzan’s conviction has been reduced to second-degree murder, with a commuted sentence of 19 years with the chance of parole.

Since Kruzan is already serving her nineteenth year behind bars, her attorney plans to expedite her parole, which could mean Kruzan will be free in as little as a few months.

G.G.’s brother was also present at the hearing Jan. 18. Rogan said he contacted the D.A.’s office the day before the hearing, requesting to be present.  Though he voiced at the hearing that he suffered a loss with the murder of his brother, he admitted that he was not opposed to Kruzan’s settlement agreement when asked by the judge.

Kruzan’s future seems to be bright not only because of her own looming liberation, but because she plans to help set the souls of sex trafficking victims free on their rehabilitative road to becoming survivors.

“With all that Sara’s been through, she feels it’s only right to use her experience to help free other girls who have been exploited and abused under the enslavement of a pimp,” Rogan said.

Indeed, even from behind bars, Kruzan seems to live by the words of the great Nelson Mandela, who, not unlike Sara, was also sentenced to life in prison for committing infallible acts of justice: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Additional Sara Kruzan coverage by the Abolish Slavery Coalition:

About the Author

Melissa Grace HoonMelissa 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.

Sara Kruzan sentence reduced; eligible for parole this year

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan's sentence has been reduced to 15 years plus four years with the chance of parole.

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan’s sentence has been reduced to 15 years plus four years with the chance of parole.

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan, who is currently serving her nineteenth year in prison, will likely be released from jail within a few months.  At a Riverside Court hearing this morning, it was revealed that Kruzan’s sentence has been reduced to 15 years plus four years and is eligible for parole this year.

Kruzan was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 for killing her pimp in Riverside, Calif. the prior year at age 16.  Her pimp, George Gilbert “G.G.” Howard, had groomed Kruzan for prostitution since age 11, then raped, beat and sold her for sex starting when she was 13.

In 1995, Riverside Superior Court Judge J. Thompson Hanks sentenced Kruzan to life in prison.  In 2011, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan’s sentence to 25 years with the chance of parole.  Kruzan requested a retrial last summer, which has seen several extensions and no official decision.

Kruzan’s legal team and the Riverside Court revealed that a tentative proposed settlement had been reached, which was to be disclosed in a hearing Jan. 11.  The hearing was postponed to today, where it was announced that Kruzan’s conviction has been reduced to second-degree murder, with a commuted sentence of 15 years plus four years with the chance of parole.  Since this is Kruzan’s nineteenth year in jail, it is possible that she will be released on parole in as little as a few months.

Additional Sara Kruzan coverage by the Abolish Slavery Coalition:

About the Author

Melissa Grace HoonMelissa 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.

Breaking News: Sara Kruzan hearing postponed

Six members of child sex trafficking victim Sara Jessimy Kruzan’s family and legal team waited anxiously outside a Riverside County courtroom today for Kruzan’s scheduled 8:30 a.m. hearing where Judge Gary Tranbarger was to reveal the terms of her settlement. But no hearing took place and no settlement was disclosed.

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan, now 35, was sentenced to life in prison in 1995 for killing her pimp who had beaten, raped and prostituted her since she was 11 years old. She is currently serving her eighteenth consecutive year in prison.

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan, now 35, was sentenced to life in prison in 1995 for killing her pimp who had beaten, raped and prostituted her since she was 11 years old. She is currently serving her nineteenth consecutive year in prison.

After waiting at least an hour past the hearing’s scheduled start time, Kruzan’s team was informed by a court deputy that her hearing has been postponed until Jan. 18. Kruzan’s attorney disclosed outside court this morning that the settlement expected to be revealed next week does not include a retrial.

Kruzan, who was convicted of first-degree murder of her pimp in 1995, requested a retrial last summer that would cite battered-partner defense. She has only received news of several extensions regarding Riverside District Attorney Paul Zellerbach’s decision concerning her request. In 1995, Riverside Superior Judge J. Thompson Hanks sentenced Kruzan to life in prison without parole. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted her term to 25 years with the chance of parole in 2011.

The proposed tentative settlement has been agreed upon by Kruzan and her legal team and the Riverside Court. Kruzan will be present during her hearing next week via teleconference from Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla where she is currently serving her nineteenth consecutive year in jail. The settlement will either include a reduced prison sentence or the sentence will remain the same, said Kruzan’s aunt, Anne Rogan, who was present at the courthouse this morning. But Rogan believes the settlement will reveal “good news” since Kruzan has been requested to be present, albeit remotely, at her hearing. It is also possible that Kruzan be allowed to plea a lesser charge.

Additional Sara Kruzan coverage by the Abolish Slavery Coalition:

About the Author

Melissa Grace HoonMelissa 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.

Settlement reached for child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan, now 35, was convicted in 1995 for the first-degree murder of her pimp who had beaten, raped and prostituted her since she was 11 years old. She is currently serving her eighteenth year in prison.

Child sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan, now 35, was convicted in 1995 for the first-degree murder of her pimp who had beaten, raped and prostituted her since she was 11 years old. She is currently serving her eighteenth consecutive year in prison.

Last week, I saw Django: Unchained, a film currently in theaters about an American slave who exacts justice from slaveholders. The audience let out a cheering roar each time slave Django came one step closer to claiming redemption in the face of slave masters. The movie is set in the antebellum South on the eve of the Civil War before the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation by which President Lincoln declared all Confederate slaves to be free. Now, 150 years after all Southern souls were said to be free, child sex trafficking victim Sara Jessimy Kruzan is still in prison for killing her pimp in 1994.

A tentative proposed settlement has been reached for Kruzan and will be revealed Friday by Judge Gary Tranbarger. Kruzan’s attorneys and Riverside County prosecutors agreed upon the settlement to resolve her request for a new trial. This might seem to be good news for Kruzan, her family and activists campaigning for her release, but it will most likely benefit both sides, ultimately demonstrating a disconnect between the Riverside Court and the will of the people of California. Californians have exhibited a virtually unanimous passion to combat sex trafficking with the passing of Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (Prop. 35), which received the highest in-favor vote in state history in the November election.

Kruzan was convicted in 1995 for first-degree murder after she, at age 16, shot and killed her pimp who had beaten, raped and prostituted her since she was 11 years old. In 2011, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced Kruzan’s sentence to 25 years with the chance of parole. Several extensions have been granted regarding Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach’s decision to permit Kruzan a retrial, which she first requested last summer.

Kruzan’s case is a clear indication of how our society has changed in terms of human rights since her conviction 18 years ago. Beginning with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, landmark human trafficking legislation has been passed in 47 states and D.C. to criminalize human trafficking. Thus far, the Kruzan case has certainly brought more questions to light than answers: What are victims’ rights in human trafficking cases? How should human traffickers be penalized for soliciting children like Kruzan for sex today in California? Are the principles of the Emancipation Proclamation even in tact today, a century-and-a-half after it was first issued?

In 1994, Kruzan essentially had no options to claim justice because our society viewed most sex trafficking victims as prostitutes and not as prostituted girls and women, which criminalized sex workers by suggesting that they sold their bodies by choice and not by coercion. Case in point: “Teen prostitute kills pimp” was the headline of the first article written on Kruzan’s case, which by today’s human rights standards is not only misleading, but downright false. Children under age 18 cannot legally consent to sexual activity and therefore cannot be considered prostitutes. If a child has sex, it is rape, not prostitution.

Kruzan’s case is hardly about murder; it’s about slavery and violence against women and children. Surely if the court saw a case like Kruzan’s today, it would be inclined to consider the circumstances surrounding the child victim who shot and killed the man who raped, beat and sold her for sex. Should the Riverside Court reveal Friday that it sides with the same Draconian mores of the pre-Civil War era, it will prove that it is far out of touch with current human rights legislation and the pure will of the people of California. With this outcome, more questions would be raised: Is California a slave state in 2013? What does the Kruzan settlement reveal about California’s legal system?

Sara Kruzan (left) with her aunt, Anne Rogan. Photo courtesy: SaveSara.com

Sara Kruzan (left) with her aunt, Anne Rogan. Photo courtesy: SaveSara.com

I spoke with Kruzan’s aunt, Anne Rogan, on Tuesday, which was Sara’s 35th birthday. Rogan had just gotten off the phone with Kruzan, who spoke from the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla where she spent her eighteenth consecutive birthday behind bars.

“Sara was a wonderful, bright child and is a beautiful woman. She is in good spirits, all things considered,” said Rogan, who visited Kruzan on Sunday. “The year 2012 was a very difficult time for Sara. She was waiting, waiting, waiting … extension after extension … hope in light, then hope faded into darkness, time and time again. This took an extreme toll on her emotionally and she lost a lot of weight.”

Rogan, like so many in California and across the globe, remains hopeful for at least some amount of justice to be granted in favor of Kruzan on Friday.

“How can you be against a woman who has spent nearly half her life in jail after being exploited as a child sex trafficking victim?” Rogan asked, her stern voice ripe with perplexity. “How can you be against Sara’s freedom after she was already forced to be imprisoned under a pimp for so long?”

The story of Django also follows a female slave who was forced to service men sexually and was beaten and tortured, like Kruzan, for demonstrating even the slightest discrepancy. Moviegoers howled victoriously as this system crumbled under Django’s vengeful claim for justice. The success of the film proves that people are flocking to see it because they, too, have a fervent desire to see justice unveil for those who are righteous. If the Riverside Court decides to leave this same system in place in 2013, it’s not unlikely that it might find an angry mob on the steps of City Hall ready to exact justice in the name of Sara Kruzan.

Additional Sara Kruzan coverage by the Abolish Slavery Coalition:

About the Author

Melissa Grace HoonMelissa 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.

Exclusive interview: Sex trafficking victim Sara Kruzan’s family speaks out

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).

Sara Kruzan (left) with her aunt, Anne Rogan. Photo courtesy: SaveSara.com

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:

About the Author

Melissa Grace HoonMelissa 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.