December 3, 2023

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday pardoned a former inmate who was sentenced to life in prison as a teenager for the murder of her former pimp.

It is the last step in the official redemption that spanned more than a decade and three rulers from both political parties.

Herz was among nearly thirty pardons and clemency decisions on Friday that also affected both older and younger offenders. Among them was 82-year-old Henri Bacznowski, who was born to Polish parents who were later imprisoned in Nazi labor camps in World War II.

Sarah Cruzan was 16 years old when she murdered George Gilbert Howard in a Riverside hotel room. She was 17 when she was sentenced to death in prison for the murder of the man she said sexually assaulted her in 1994 and trafficked her for sex since she was 13.

Pardon the Governor of California
This undated photo released by the California Department of Corrections shows Sarah Cruzan.

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She spent 18 years in prison until Newsom’s predecessor, then governor. Jerry Brown She was allowed to be released in 2013.

Brown’s predecessor, then governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger, commuted her sentence to life with the possibility of parole before leaving office in early 2011.

By then, Cruzan had become something of particular interest to state legislators and correctional groups seeking to commute harsh life sentences for those who committed their crimes as juveniles.

Leland Yee, a Democratic senator who himself later went to prison for corruption, described her case at the time as “a wonderful example of adults who let her down, and society failed her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one”.

Newsom said in his pardon that Cruzan has since shown that she “lives an upright life.”

Since the murder, he said, she has “changed her life and devoted herself to community service.” Newsom said the pardon does not diminish her crime or the harm she caused, but it “acknowledges the work she has done since then to change herself.”

Cruzan was among 17 pardons announced on Friday.

The governor’s office said a pardon does not erase or erase a conviction, but it can help mitigate the ongoing impact on the recipient’s life. For example, three others who have been pardoned face the possibility of deportation based on their criminal history, including one who has already been deported.

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

Mitigations give prisoners the opportunity to appear before a parole committee, which will decide if they are suitable for release.

The state’s Secretary of Corrections recommended a commute to inmate Darnell Green, based on his exceptional behavior in prison after he was initially convicted of armed robbery in 1997 in which no one was injured.

Two others whose sentences were commuted worked as prison firefighters.

Newsom has commuted the sentences of an inmate who was arrested at age 15, and another who is now 78.

Newsom also pardoned 82-year-old Bachnowski, who now lives in Maryland. He pleaded guilty in 1967 in Orange County to a misdemeanor charge of inciting an indecent act and was sentenced to 10 days in prison and 3 years of probation.

In his pardon request, Bachnovsky said he was having a consensual “intimate relationship” with another man in a car in a deserted industrial estate when they were arrested by a security guard who “said we were against God and nature.” He said he pleaded guilty to avoid prosecution for the more serious charge of “homosexuality”.

“The amnesty will not only acknowledge and remedy the injustice I suffered as a result of being targeted and convicted because of my sexual orientation; it will also ensure that no future obstacles, such as employment and housing, will be faced as a result of this conviction,” he said in the application.

In his pardon, the governor said that Bachnovsky was convicted and sentenced for a charge that was used to “punish men for engaging in consensual extreme sexual behavior with other men, criminalizing them on the basis of stigma, prejudice and ignorance.”

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

Newsom has now granted 129 pardons, 123 mitigations, and 35 deferments.

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