A child sex-trafficking victim facing life in prison for shooting dead her alleged abuser could find hope in the same self-defence law that saw Kyle Rittenhouse acquitted of homicide charges, advocates say.
Chrystul Kizer was 17 years old when she shot and killed Randall Volar III in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in June 2018. She is currently awaiting trial on five felony charges, including first-degree intentional homicide.
Prosecutors say Ms Kizer planned to kill Volar because she wanted to steal his BMW. But her attorneys argue that she acted in self defence after suffering years of sexual abuse at Volar’s hands.
Her case gained renewed attention this month when Mr Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges for shooting three men – two fatally – during racial justice protests in Kenosha last year.
In his case, Mr Rittenhouse’s lawyers successfully argued that the teen opened fire to defend himself against an angry mob because he feared for his life.
When the verdict came down on 19 November, protesters erupted in chants of Ms Kizer’s name outside the courthouse.
Advocates argue that if the state self-defence law applies to Mr Rittenhouse, it should also apply to Ms Kizer.
The law states that “a person is privileged to threaten or intentionally use force against another for the purpose of preventing or terminating what the person reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference with his or her person by such other person”.
The Rittenhouse trial brought the law under scrutiny, as even the judge acknowledged its wording is confusing and overly vague.
Ms Kizer’s attorneys are planning to take a different route with Wisconsin’s “affirmative defence” statute. Put simply, the law allows for an acquittal on charges for crimes committed by a person being trafficked.
Whether the defence will be allowed to invoke that law – which has never before been used in a homicide case – at trial is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court. A Kenosha County judge ruled that she could not use it, but that decision was later overturned by an appellate court.
Ms Kizer claims she met Volar when she was 16 and he was 33 through Backpage.com, a classified advertising website that was shut down in 2018 over allegations of facilitating prosecution.
Volar allegedly groomed her with cash and gifts while sexually abusing her and selling her to other men for a year before she shot him.
At the time of his death, Volar was under investigation for abusing multiple underage Black girls. Authorities found videos of the alleged abuse and brought charges against him before he was released on bail.
On the night of the killing, Ms Kizer claims Volar was trying to pin her to the floor of his home in Kenosha when she shot him twice in the head, set his house on fire and fled in his BMW.
She was released on $400,000 bail in June 2020 after community activists banded together to raise the funds. A date for her trial has not been set.
Advocates say the stark contrast between the justice system’s treatment of Mr Rittenhouse, who is white, and Ms Kizer, who is Black, boils down to racism.
But there are other important differences in the cases, according to Julius Kim, an attorney and former prosecutor in Wisconsin.
Mr Kim told NBC News that Mr Rittenhouse’s self-defence claim is “more traditional” than Ms Kizer’s because there was video showing the “imminent danger” he faced.
He said the courts are hesitant about allowing Ms Kizer to invoke an affirmative defence because it could set a “dangerous precedent” in other homicide cases.
“What they’re saying is if someone commits a first-degree intentional homicide but shows some evidence they committed as a direct result of trafficking, that essentially gives people a license to kill their traffickers,” Mr Kim told NBC News.
Nearly 1.5 million people have signed a Change.org petition to drop all charges against Ms Kizer as she awaits trial.
“The punishment that Chrystul is facing for defending her own life signals that black women and girls have no selves to defend,” the petition states.
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