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California woman pardoned decades after killing her pimp as a teenager

Sara Kruzan was 16-years-old when she killed her pimp, and only 17 when she was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

SAN DIEGO — It's a new lease on life for a California woman who was convicted as a teenager for killing the man who had forced her in to prostitution.

Governor Newsom has granted a pardon to Sara Kruzan, who is now 44 years old and working to raise awareness about sex trafficking. 

This case has stirred the debate over the way courts often treat survivors of abuse, especially when they are juveniles.

"I definitely know that i deserve punishment," said Kruzan, from her prison cell back in 2009. "You don't just take someone's life and think that it's okay."

That video, recorded by Human Rights Watch, was captured 15 years after Kruzan fatally shot George Howard, a family friend who she said had begun abusing her when she 11-years-old, and began to sexually traffic her when she was 13.

"I've found the ability to believe in myself," Kruzan added in that 2009 video. "I have a lot of good to offer." 

Kruzan, who lived for a while with family in San Diego, was 16-years-old when she killed her pimp in a motel room in Riverside, and only 17 when she was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

She went on to serve 18 years behind bars before Governor Newsom's predecessor, Jerry Brown, agreed to her early release.

"She is a victim! She was trafficked, she was tortured, and she was a minor when all this started," said Marisa Ugarte, executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, a San Diego based non-profit dedicated to combatting human trafficking and helping its victims. 

Her non-profit was part of a coalition of reform groups which fought for Kruzan's release.

"It was just unbelievable that they would put her in prison  for something like that, when she tried to save herself from a predator, from a pimp," she added. 

Ugarte was elated when she heard that, nearly a decade after her release, Kruzan, who now works as an advocate for parolees, has been pardoned by Governor Newsom, 

In a statement, Newsom said that Kruzan has shown she "is living an upright life" since her release, and while the pardon does not minimize her crime, "it does recognize the work she has done since to transform herself."

Ugarte also pointed out that, in the nearly three decades since Kruzan first went to prison, the problem of sex trafficking persists.

"It has gotten worse," she told CBS 8. 

In fact, San Diego ranks 13th in the country for human sex trafficking, with up to 8,000 victims every year.

"Parents, you should be concerned," Ugarte added. "You need to be aware, you need to ask the right questions: you need to be there for the children!"

For local resources to help combat child sex trafficking, click here

For more information on the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, click here. 

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