A woman whose case became a rallying cry for juvenile justice reform after spending 19 years behind bars for killing her pimp at age 16 was paroled to Orange County Thursday.
Sara Kruzan, now 35, was taken by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation staff to meet parole agents and then went to a new home at an undisclosed location in Orange County.
At the Orange County parole office, photographs of Kruzan were taken and an initial parole interview was conducted, according to corrections spokesman Luis Patino.
Kruzan left the resident “en route to her new residence” at 11:30 a.m., Patino said.
She was released from the Central California Women’s Facility Chowchilla, where she had lived since 1996, before dawn on Thursday, according to the Department of Corrections.
After being imprisoned under a life sentence for the 1994 murder of her abuser, George Howard, Kruzan was allowed release when Gov. Jerry Brown signaled his approval of a State Board of Parole Hearings’ recommendation she be paroled.
Kruzan campaigned for her own release, alongside supporters, arguing that she should not have been sentenced as an adult for a crime that followed years of abuse by her mother, her pimp and others.
Kruzan was originally granted clemency in 2011 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, reducing her sentence to 25 years to life, according to State Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, who advocated for Kruzan.
“Sara Kruzan is an inspiring example of the capacity for young people to recover from trauma and abuse,” Yee said in a statement Tuesday. “Her personal journey from survivor of terrible sexual exploitation to an educated woman dedicated to helping others shows us how backwards it was to sentence juveniles to life without parole.”
Kruzan, raised by a drug-addicted mother in Riverside, was sexually assaulted by Howard when she was just 11, according to Yee.
Howard drove her around and gave her ice cream before first assaulting her, she wrote in a 2010 application for clemency. Howard began sexually trafficking her when she was 13, Kruzan wrote.
She fatally shot him and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Her case became a rallying cry for juvenile justice reform, especially for those opposed to life sentences for minors, including Yee.
In her clemency application, posted on the National Center for Youth Law’s website, Kruzan wrote that she felt remorse for killing Howard.
“It is with love I seek to be forgiven,” she wrote, “it is with love I have forgiven all who have hurt me.”