Jerry Brown OKs freedom for woman imprisoned at 16 for killing pimp

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has decided to allow freedom for a woman whose punishment for killing her pimp became a call to arms against the practice of locking up juveniles for life.

Sara Kruzan, 35, was incarcerated at 16 after she killed the man she contended had groomed her since age 11 to work for him as a child prostitute. She was sentenced to life without parole for her crime, and her case became a high-profile example used by lawmakers and advocates for juvenile offenders seeking to soften such harsh sentences.

"It is justice long overdue," said Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat who began championing Kruzan's case a decade ago.

Yee called Kruzan's case the "perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around."

In a video on Yee's website, Kruzan said, "I definitely know I deserve punishment. You don't just take somebody's life and think that it's OK. How much [punishment], I don't know."

After years of debate among state lawmakers, Yee's legislation to allow new sentencing hearings for juveniles sent to prison for life without parole became law in January. In September, Brown signed a second bill requiring parole boards to give special consideration to juveniles tried as adults who have served at least 15 years of lengthy sentences. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 prisoners already eligible for parole hearings under that new law.

Even before passage of those bills, advocates convinced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2011 to change Kruzan's sentence to allow for parole. A Riverside judge in January further reduced her first-degree murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.

The state Board of Parole Hearings in June forwarded to Brown's office its recommendation that she be released. A spokesman for the governor's office said Brown has decided to allow the order to go into effect without his signature, almost two weeks before the deadline for his action.

Kruzan is housed at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.

paige.stjohn@latimes.com