Despite growing up in an abusive household with a drug-addicted mother, Sara Kruzan was a self-described “overachiever” in school. At the age of 11, an older man named G.G. approached her and took her under his wing, showering her with gifts, taking her and her friends roller-skating and positioning himself as a “father figure” to Sara.
After G.G. had gained Sara’s trust, he began priming her for prostitution, telling her she didn’t need to “give it up for free.” By the time she turned 13, G.G. had raped her repeatedly to “break [her] in” and put her out on the streets to work for him as a full-time prostitute. Sara worked 12-hour shifts as a prostitute for G.G. for three years, giving him all the money she made and enduring his physical abuse. Sara murdered her abusive pimp at the age of 16 and was sentenced to life without parole by a judge who told her she “lacked moral scruples.”
According to an article at Alternet.org, over 2,500 people in America are condemned to die in prison for crimes they committed before they turned 18. Many of these teenage criminals came from abusive situations, some of them are serving these harsh sentences for crimes other than murder.
Two Supreme Court cases on the docket this month– Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida– will decide the constitutionality of sentencing children to life without parole.
The Sullivan case is particularly surprising. The petitioner, Joe Sullivan, was 13 years old and mentally disabled in 1989 when he was accused by two older teenagers of raping an elderly white woman. The woman could not identify which boy raped her, only that he was “colored,” which all three of them were by her standards. A jury decided that Sullivan had committed the crime, and he was sentenced to life without parole after a one-day trial.
Joe Sullivan, 2009
Sullivan was sent to prison, where he was repeatedly assaulted by much older and bigger men. He is now in a wheelchair, continuing to serve his life sentence for a rape that he may or may not have committed as a little boy.
Of course, the above cases are unusually extreme, and I am not so naive as to think that everyone who commits a murder or heinous crime under the age of 18 deserves our sympathy or can be reformed. But what kind of judge sentences a 13- year-old mentally disabled kid to life without parole for rape? He should serve time among criminals his own age, then undergo thorough psychiatric treatment and evaluation until he is fit to re-enter society.
Likewise, it is clear from the video of Sara Kruzan that if she were released after some jail-time and rehabilitation, she could become a law-abiding, contributing member of society. She is not a cold-blooded murderer– she killed her abuser and captor because she saw no other way out.
I’m sure my law student commenters will jump on me for saying this, because I haven’t studied due process or torts or whatever it is that’s relevant here, but I think something is very wrong with a legal system in which creeps like Phillip Garrido can be released after 11 years in prison for kidnapping and raping a child for hours as an adult, but a young boy gets life without parole for a lesser crime. Criminal sentencing should take into account the likelihood of that person committing similar crimes again, and the relative ability of that criminal to respond to rehab and reform efforts. A man who kidnaps and rapes children will probably always be a man who kidnaps and rapes children, but a teenager who kills her abusive pimp has more of a chance to learn from her mistakes.
Is that a ridiculous way to approach the law? What do you guys think?