California Gov. Newsom pardons Sara Kruzan sentenced for killing her pimp as a teen

SACRAMENTO, Calif. –California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday pardoned a former inmate who received a life sentence when she was a teenager for killing her former pimp in Riverside.

It’s the final step in an official redemption that has spanned more than a decade and three governors of both political parties.

Hers was among nearly three dozen such pardons and clemencies Friday that also affected older and younger offenders. Among them was a now-82-year-old man who pleaded guilty in 1967 to a lewd act involving another man in Orange County, a crime which the governor said simply punished him for his sexuality.

Sara Kruzan was 16 when she killed George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside motel room. She was 17 when she was sentenced to die in prison for the 1994 murder of the man she said had sexually abused her and trafficked her for sex starting when she was 13 years old.

She served 18 years in prison until Newsom’s predecessor, then-Gov. Jerry Brown, allowed her release in 2013.

Brown’s predecessor, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had commuted his sentence to life with the possibility of parole just before he left office in early 2011.

By then Kruzan had become something of a cause célbre for state lawmakers and reform groups seeking to soften harsh life sentences for those who committed their crimes as juveniles.

Leland Yee, a Democratic state senator who himself later went to prison for corruption, at the time called her case a “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.”

Newsom said in his pardon that Kruzan has since shown that she “is living an upright life.”

Since the slaying, he said she “has transformed her life and dedicated herself to community service.” The pardon, Newsom said, does not minimize her crime or the damage it caused, but “it does recognize the work she has done since to transform herself.”

Kruzan’s was among 17 pardons announced Friday.

A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction, the governor’s office said, but can help blunt the lingering impact on the recipient’s life. For instance, three others he pardoned face the possibility of deportation based on their criminal history, including one who already has been deported.

Newsom also commuted the sentences of 15 current inmates and granted a reprieve to an inmate who is at high medical risk.

The switches give the inmates the chance to appear before a parole board that will decide if they are suitable for release.

One of the commutations, of inmate Darnell Green, was recommended by the state’s corrections secretary based on his exceptional conduct in prison after he was initially sentenced for a 1997 armed robbery in which no one was hurt.

Two others whose sentences were commuted have worked as inmate firefighters.

Newsom commuted the sentences of one inmate who was arrested at age 15, and another who is now 78 years old.

One commutation was for 82-year-old Henry Pachnowski, who was born to Polish parents who were later imprisoned in Nazi labor camps in World War II.

Pachnowski, who now lives in Maryland, pleaded guilty in 1967 in Orange County to a misdemeanor charge of soliciting a lewd act and was sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years of probation.

In his pardon application, Pachnowski said he was having consensual “intimacy” with another man in a car in a deserted industrial area when they were caught by a security guard who “said we had gone against God and nature.” He said he pleaded guilty to avoid prosecution on a more serious charge of “sex perversion.”

“A pardon would not only recognize and remedy the injustice that I suffered from being targeted and convicted because of my sexuality; it would also ensure that I do not face any future obstacles, such as employment and housing-related ones, stemming from this conviction ,” he said in the application.

In his pardon, the governor said Pachnowski was convicted and sentenced on a charge that was used “to punish men for engaging in consensual adult sexual conduct with other men, criminalizing them based on stigma, bias, and ignorance.”

“With this act of executive clemency, I acknowledge the inherent injustice of the conviction,” he wrote.

Newsom has now granted 129 pardons, 123 commutations, and 35 reprieves.

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