By Bryn Martyna
A tentative agreement has been reached between defense lawyers and Riverside County prosecutors in the Sara Kruzan case. No details of the agreement have been revealed and it is unclear whether it allows for a new trial or Kruzan’s release from prison. The fact that an agreement has been reached was disclosed in a recent request to the Court for a Jan. 11 hearing about the plan. The request, supported by both sides, was granted.
Ms. Kruzan was sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the shooting death of her former pimp in 1994, when she was 16. The pimp had sexually abused her since she was 11, and he began trafficking her as a prostitute when she was 13. For more about her case, and NCYL’s work to end juvenile life without parole (JLWOP), click here .
On June 20, the California Supreme Court ordered a new hearing in the Riverside Superior Court on the issue of whether Kruzan is entitled to a new trial with the chance to use the battered partner defense. In her original trial, Ms. Kruzan was not allowed to present a battered partner defense. Now, the California attorney general’s office has changed its position and conceded that she may appropriately be considered a victim of domestic violence. There have been a number of extensions to the deadline for Riverside prosecutors to respond to the order for a new hearing. Previous extensions have been for 60 or 30 days, but this most recent extension was just from November 20 to December 7. When it announces a decision, the District Attorney’s office could choose to release her from prison on credit for time served, or could decide to pursue a new trial. The parties could also negotiate some other outcome. Juvenile justice advocates across the country have rallied behind this case. In the words of Michael Harris, Senior Attorney at NCYL, “Sara Kruzan deserves to be free. She has more than paid any debt that she owed to society. In the fundamental interests of justice the Riverside District Attorney should acknowledge this fact and announce that he will not seek a new trial.”
The request for a new trial has been pending for years now. In 2010, Ms. Kruzan petitioned the Riverside Superior Court (where she was originally convicted) for a new trial and the request was denied. She then appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal. NCYL assisted attorneys from Perkins Coie on the appeal. (Click here for the Youth Law News story on the appeal). The Court of Appeal upheld the denial, and Kruzan appealed to the California Supreme Court, who ordered the new hearing. Supporters have also pursued requests for a pardon, and while she was not pardoned, in January 2011, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted her life sentence to 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole.
Recent Press-Enterprise (Riverside) articles also covered these delays: