When she was 17-years-old, Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing the man who had sexually abused and sex trafficked her for more than five years. But, during her trial, details of the abuse were not allowed in court.
After nearly 20 years behind bars, Kruzan was released. Now, she’s an advocate for juvenile offenders.
“By the age of 13, I was being sold.”
For Sara Kruzan, childhood was full of pain and abuse.
“You don’t realize what’s happening… a child should never have to be in those positions.”
She was sexually molested and prostituted by a family friend for years until the day she shot him dead.
“I had a two and a half day trial.”
In a video interview, Kruzan explained that during the trial, the judge would not allow evidence of the abuse as part of her defense.
“I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus four years.”
She ended up serving nearly 20 years in prison before the governor of California granted her release.
Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman heard about Kruzan’s story.
“I don’t think justice was done in her case…”
Westerman decided to take action. He recently filed a bill giving federal judges more flexibility to consider previous abuse when sentencing juvenile defendants.
“They shouldn’t be punished again by the justice system when they’re using whatever is at their means to get away from the person who is abusing them.”
Westerman also filed bills making juveniles ineligible for a sentence of life without parole and allow judges to reduce mandatory minimum sentences in cases like Kruzan’s.
“I felt really terrible about myself for a long time.”
But, Kruzan has found her voice. She now works as an advocate for parolees helping them navigate their new lives on the outside.
Westerman named one of his bills ‘Sara’s Law’ in honor of Sara Kruzan. It only applies in federal courtrooms which account for just a small portion of juvenile cases.
But, supporters hope it serves as an example for states to follow.