RIVERSIDE – A small group of family and supporters of a convicted murderess delivered a 25,000-signature petition today to Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, asking him to change his position in the case and give the woman a shot at freedom.
”I so deeply want her to be free. I want you guys to know that,” Carrie Christie, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based Free Sara Kruzan campaign, told a representative of the D.A.’s office while delivering the petition at the Regency Tower in downtown Riverside.
Christie broke down in tears, asking to personally deliver the boxed petition to Zellerbach or his assistant.
”I just want him to see me and know that she’s such an amazing human being,” the woman said.
John Hall, the public information officer for the D.A.’s office, accepted the petition on behalf of Zellerbach after meeting with Christie alone in a conference room.
Hall declined to comment on the case, which has been the subject of a back-and-forth legal contest between prosecutors and Kruzan’s attorneys, culminating in a hearing before the state’s highest court earlier this year.
Kruzan was convicted in 1995 of first-degree murder with special circumstance allegations of lying in wait for the March 1994 slaying of 36-year-old ”G.G.” Howard, who had been her pimp. Kruzan was 16 years old at the time of the killing and was prosecuted as an adult.
According to published reports, the teenager arranged to meet Howard at a Riverside motel, where she shot him through the neck, stealing his $1,500 in cash and sports car and leaving him dying in the room.
Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Before he left office, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted her sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Her first parole hearing will be in 2017.
However, Kruzan’s lawyers pushed to have the facts of her case reviewed in light of the fact that she might be eligible for an ”intimate partner abuse” defense, a relatively new legal strategy in California comparable to a defense based on ”battered woman’s syndrome.”
After repeatedly opposing Kruzan’s appeals, the state attorney general’s office in May abruptly backed off its position that Kruzan and Howard had been in a business relationship as prostitute and pimp, conceding she could have been the victim of child exploitation and abuse.
Kruzan alleges Howard sexually assaulted her twice before putting her to work on the streets at the age of 13. Between ages 11 and 13, Howard had taken an interest in her, providing her money, ice cream and other favors to win her trust, according to supporters.
Kruzan’s defense in her 1995 trial was that her new pimp, James Hampton, had ordered her to kill Howard and threatened her life if she didn’t follow through.
In June, the California Supreme Court issued an order to show cause in the Kruzan case, instructing the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office to explain why the defendant should not be entitled to a new trial based on the ”intimate partner abuse” argument.
Zellerbach has until tomorrow to formally respond, after which Kruzan’s attorneys will have 30 days to respond to the D.A.
Los Angeles attorney Ron McIntire said that the goal is to have his client’s conviction reduced from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter, which would result in her immediate release from prison, because she’s been behind bars for nearly 18 years — well over the time required for a manslaughter conviction.
But the D.A. must stipulate to a reduction. If Zellerbach opposes it, McIntire said, then Kruzan’s defense team will argue before a Riverside County Superior Court judge to allow a retrial of the case.
No hearing dates have been set.
In the meantime, the 34-year-old Kruzan has become what state corrections officials describe as a model prisoner, providing counseling to other inmates while living in the ”honors” dormitory at Chowchilla State Prison.
”She’s excelling as much as you can in prison,” Anne Rogan — one of eight people who carried the petition into the DA’s office today — she said of her niece. ”We’re very hopeful the DA will make the right decision.”