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Sara Kruzan, Calif. woman who got life at 17 for killing former pimp, is about to be released

Sara Kruzan
Sara Kruzan, now 35, will be set free despite a life sentence for killing her former pimp when she was 17; seen here in a March 11, 2012 photo. AP Photo, file/California Department of Corrections, File

(CBS/AP) A California woman who received a life sentence as a 17-year-old for killing her former pimp will be released after Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown decided not to block a state parole board's decision to grant her freedom.

Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life imprisonment in the 1994 shooting death of George  Howard in a Riverside motel room. She said said Howard sexually abused her and had groomed her since she was 11 to work as a child prostitute.

Kruzan, now 35, has been in prison for 19 years, CBS Los Angeles reports.

"I remember reading the headline in the Riverside newspaper. It said 'Teen prostitute kills pimp," Kruzan's aunt, Ann Rogen, told CBS News.

Rogan said she had no idea of the abuse her young niece endured. "I just could not fathom, I couldn't understand, I couldn't wrap my mind around it."

Her case became a high-profile example used by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who sought to soften harsh life sentences for juveniles.

"It is justice long overdue," Yee told the Los Angeles Times. He called Kruzan's case the "perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around."

Kruzan's case garnered widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube.

The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.

"Given Ms. Kruzan's age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan's sentence is excessive," the governor wrote in his commutation message, "it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age."

This January, a Riverside judge further reduced her first-degree murder conviction to second degree, making her immediately eligible for release.

Yee's legislation to allow new sentencing hearings for juveniles sent to prison for life without parole became law in January. In September, Brown signed a second bill requiring parole boards to give special consideration to juveniles tried as adults who have served at least 15 years of lengthy sentences. Advocates estimate there are more than 1,000 prisoners already eligible for parole hearings under that new law.

Brown's decision on Kruzan's case came nearly two weeks before the deadline for his action, Westrup said. The parole board was expected to act on the decision on Monday.

Kruzan is housed at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.

Rogen told CBS News she is "elated" and plans to take in Kruzan as soon as she is released.

"Things happen to us but then we evolve and change and become stronger and we become better and that's what has happened to Sara," Rogen said.

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