Oct. 31 marks the second anniversary of Sara Kruzan’s release from prison.
At the age of 13 Kruzan was forced into prostitution by George Gilbert Howard, a man she referred to as G.G. In 1995, after a two-and-a-half day trial, Kruzan was convicted of the first degree murder of G.G. At 17, she was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Kruzan and U professor Michael Teter, one of her pro bono attorneys, spoke about this experience at the S.J. Quinney College of Law Moot Courtroom on Wednesday as part of the U’s Pro Bono Week.
To introduce Kruzan, moderator Jensie Anderson said, “As I researched [Kruzan], the word ‘survivor’ came up over and over and over.”
During her incarceration Kruzan used her time to educate herself in law and wrote two petitions for a writ on her own. While in prison, a fellow inmate told Kruzan, “the only way you’re going to get out of here is in a pine box.”
In 2009, Human Rights Watch began a campaign to ban life sentences without parole of juveniles in California. To boost the campaign, the organization published a video highlighting Kruzan’s story.
The video can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGL_p7BcJqk
The video piqued the interest of Teter and other attorneys at Seattle law firm Perkins Coie. They contacted Kruzan and took up the case.
The pro bono group’s first route of action was to petition for clemency of then-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. Due to the campaigning of Human Rights Watch, the case received a lot of media attention. Because of the exposure, Teter enlisted the help of celebrities like Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and even Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver. As a result, the governor commuted Kruzan’s sentence to 25 years to life.
Eventually, Teter struck a deal with the district attorney in Riverside, Calif., where Kruzan was sentenced. She pled guilty to second degree murder and in exchange her sentence was reduced to 15 years to life.
After 18 years in prison, Kruzan was released at 3 a.m. on Halloween. Teter and his team immediately flew to have dinner with Kruzan.
“These lawyers are not only my friends but my family,” Kruzan said.
The event was intended to encourage law students to become involved in Pro Bono cases and organizations and promote the U’s Pro Bono Initiative.
“We have created a legal system that keeps many people from accessing justice,” Teter said. “We have a duty to do Pro Bono work.”