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October 1, 2010

California female juve killer serving LWOP seeks (and deserves?) clemency from Governor Schwarzenegger

As detailed in this local story, which is headlined "Sara Kruzan, Serving Life Without Parole, Petitions CA Governor for Release," a notable new state clemency request has been made by a female killer in California (whom, to me, seems like a much more sympathetic character than the recently executed Teresa Lewis):

Sara Kruzan, who was just two months past her 16th birthday when she shot her 36-year-old pimp in 1994, has filed a clemency petition asking California Gov. Schwarzenegger to commute her life without parole sentence to time served. Now 32, Sara has spent half her life in prison, where she is a model prisoner and working toward a college degree.

The petition, filed yesterday by attorneys from the law firm of Perkins Coie and the National Center for Youth Law, seeks Sara's release. Sara, the petition says, had no criminal record at the time of her crime and, in fact, had been an honor student who once served as student body president.

The man Sara shot, a pimp named "G.G.", sexually assaulted her when she was just 11 years old. He then turned her onto the street as a prostitute at age 13. In addition to the abuse suffered at the hands of her eventual victim, Sara's life was plagued with abuse from others: she was molested as a young child by other men, gang raped by men from her neighborhood at age 13, and endured physical and emotional abuse by her own mother.

In her clemency petition, Sara acknowledges that her past does not excuse what she did, and expresses deep remorse for her crime. "I feel a deep sorrow for taking [his] life. It is daily I experience a level of grief and sadness in my heart and in my thoughts," Sara writes.

At the time of her sentencing, the California Youth Authority evaluated Sara and determined that she could be rehabilitated in the juvenile system, which would have resulted in her release at age 25. Instead, Sara was sentenced to serve the rest of her life in adult prison....

Sara's clemency petition is based on the absence of expert testimony at trial explaining how Sara's actions were affected by the years of abuse she endured, as well as on her youth at the time of the crime and her subsequent rehabilitation in prison. The decision of whether to grant Sara clemency rests solely with the Governor.

A pdf copy of the clemency forms filed in this case can be accessed at this link.

As the headline of this post hints, I have a hard time thinking of a potentially more sympathetic case calling for the exercise of clemency in the context of a juvenile killer.  Sara age and background (not to mention her gender), as well as the nature of her victim, certainly suggests that she is perhaps the most "sympathetic" murderer that one can imagine.  Nevertheless, she is subject to the sentence of life without parole the most extreme sentence that is constitutionally permitted.  (Indeed, Sara seems like an ideal case for advocates to try to extend the reach of Graham (especially the Chief's concurrence in Graham) to cover some homicide crimes by juveniles in some settings.)

Perhaps there are other facts or factors in this case that make it not quite as sympathetic and as deserving of clemency as it initially seems.  Still, this case has me thinking of a lot of related questions concerning juve girls serving LWOP for murder:

1.  Just how many of the roughly 2000 juve murderers serving LWOP sentences in the United States are female?

2.  What is the youngest age at which a female killed and ended up sentenced to LWOP?

3.  Will all (or even most or many) of the the many folks who got all worked up about Virginia's decision to execute Teresa Lewis for her multiple (and less sympathic) murders come to Sara's aid by urging California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to simply commute her sentence to life with parole?

October 1, 2010 at 10:22 AM | Permalink


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Is there any independent evidence supporting her story? If there is, then a sentence of 15 or 20 to life seems more reasonable.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 1, 2010 11:05:37 AM

Why did she get LWOP at all? Aaron Vargas was an adult and he only got 10 years.

Posted by: George | Oct 1, 2010 12:35:08 PM

Lots of info on the web, just google her name if curious. E.g.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sara_Kruzan

Posted by: t | Oct 1, 2010 1:21:28 PM

Doug , I agree totally with your thoughts about this case. There is little risk that this young women will commit another crime, based on the facts you recount. Of course she needed to be held accountable, but that has been accomplished. Kids 16 years old should not be held to the same standard of accountability as say 25 year olds.

At one time I was superintendent of one of the two facilities in California where clinical evaluations were done, such as the one in this case. These evaluations were done very carefully by a team of professional staff; i.e., psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, educators and so on. Its too bad she was not committed to the Youth Authority as recommended. She would have been held accountable and at the same time been placed with other young women near her own age in a rehabilitation program. All of the state's sentencing objectives could have been accomplished, not just some.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Oct 1, 2010 1:26:52 PM

"Kids 16 years old should not be held to the same standard of accountability as say 25 year olds."

Tom: With respect, where did you get that ridiculous, except from gov dependent rent seekers?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 1, 2010 8:13:44 PM

Under 123D, she could have gone home after trial. She should have received an award, and a money reward for killing a repeat offender, professional criminal. If the executive branch were wrong, and had she recidivated, the parole board would be liable to her future victims.

An Amendment should be enacted mandating weapons training for all abled people. All would be required to carry a concealed weapon. If a security tape shows their failure to fire on a criminal during a major crime, they should get an automated fine, such as $50.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 2, 2010 12:43:01 AM

lol SC this is redundant!

"An Amendment should be enacted mandating weapons training for all abled people."

We have one already...it's called the SECOND AMENDMENT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 3, 2010 3:39:33 PM

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