November 30, 2023

When Sara Kruzan was 17, she was convicted of murdering a man she said had abused her beginning when she was 11 and had trafficked her for sex at 13. She served nearly two decades in prison.

On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California granted her a pardon for fatally shooting the man, George Howard, in 1994, saying that Ms. Kruzan had “provided evidence that she is living an upright life and has demonstrated her fitness for restoration of civic rights and responsibilities.”

The case had reignited criticism of the way that courts treat survivors of abuse, especially those who are adolescents. Criminal justice reform advocates have said the judge in her case did not treated her with enough compassion; Ms. Kruzan, though 16 at the time of the crime, was tried as an adult, and the judge did not permit evidence about the abuse to be presented during her trial, The Los Angeles Times has reported.

Amid a growing public outcry over the treatment of abuse survivors, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican, commuted her sentence in 2011. Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, then allowed her release from prison in 2013, after she had served 18 years.

In the pardon, Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, said that since the killing, Ms. Kruzan “has transformed her life and dedicated herself to community service.”

Credit…California Department of Corrections, via Associated Press

“This act of clemency for Ms. Kruzan does not minimize or forgive her conduct or the harm it caused,” Mr. Newsom wrote. “It does recognize the work she has done since to transform herself.”

Ms. Kruzan described feelings of surprise and relief in a statement shared with The New York Times on Tuesday by her literary agent. “I will never forget what happened that night and fully acknowledge what did, but I am immensely grateful to feel some relief from the burden of shame and social stigma,” she said. Ms. Kruzan added that she “felt an overwhelming influx of emotions: primarily awe and elation but also shock and grief as I thought about everything that led to this moment.”

Since her release, Ms. Kruzan said, she has worked to broaden awareness and correct misinformation about sex trafficking.

In May, Ms. Kruzan, 44, published her memoir, “I Cried to Dream Again: Trafficking, Murder, and Deliverance,” in which she chronicled how she “was abused, groomed, and trafficked for sex from age 11 to age 16.” She also wrote about her suicide attempts, her criminal case and her fight for freedom.

She noted that she was the recipient of a Stoneleigh Fellowship, which funds efforts to change systems affecting youth, at the nonprofit organization Human Rights for Kids.

Mr. Newsom said that the pardon did not expunge or erase her conviction but that it would “remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service.”

Ms. Kruzan’s pardon was one of 17 that Mr. Newsom announced on Friday, along with 15 commutations and one medical reprieve, according to his office.

Since he took office in January 2019, Mr. Newsom has granted a total of 129 pardons, 123 commutations and 35 reprieves.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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