SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A woman who was sentenced to life in prison as a teenager for killing her former pimp was released Thursday under a new California law that allows resentencing of certain inmates convicted as juveniles.
Sara Kruzan was paroled from Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla after serving 19 years, said Luis Patino, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
She was 17 when she was sentenced for fatally shooting George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside motel room in 1994. She said Howard sexually assaulted her at an early age and she began working for him as a prostitute at 13.
Prosecutors said Kruzan was no longer working for Howard when she killed him.
In January, a Riverside County judge reduced Kruzan's conviction to second-degree murder, making her immediately eligible for parole. She was released less than a week after Gov. Jerry Brown decided against blocking her parole.
On his last day in office in 2011, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had commuted Kruzan's sentence to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole, noting her "significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age."
Her petition for clemency also cited years of abuse and psychiatric reports saying she suffered from battered women's syndrome.
The new law sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, permits inmates who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without parole to seek new sentencing hearings.
Yee was at the prison in Chowchilla with Kruzan's supporters and friends.
Kruzan was the first inmate to earn the new sentence under the law, Yee said. As of June, 286 inmates were serving life without parole for crimes they committed before they turned 18
Before dawn Thursday, a corrections employee drove her from the prison in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley about 135 miles southeast of Sacramento.
Patino said Kruzan, now 35, was paroled to Orange County because a location there gives her the best opportunity to re-integrate into society. She will remain on parole for a maximum of three years.
Advocates used her case to push for giving second chances to criminals who were sentenced as juveniles to lengthy prison terms.
In a statement issued before her release, Yee called Kruzan an "inspiring example of the capacity for young people to recover from trauma and abuse."
He said she was raised in Riverside by a mother who was abusive and addicted to drugs. In court documents, Kruzan said Howard began grooming her to be a prostitute when she was 11, plying her with ice cream, roller skating outings and rides in his Cadillac.