Shortly after Cyntoia Brown’s release from prison, another case surfaced involving allegations of sex trafficking and a young, black, imperfect victim.
Although Brown was 16 when she killed a man who paid to have sex with her, she was convicted of his death and convicted as an adult. She was sentenced to life in prison but was pardoned in 2019. Chrystul Kizer was 16 years old when she met Randall P. Volar III after posting an ad on Backpage, the now defunct website frequented by sex workers and potential patrons. Kizer was looking for money for snacks and school booklets. The site was shut down in 2018 after being linked to child sex trafficking. Volar sexually abused Kizer several times and filmed the meetings.
In June 2018, a 17-year-old Kizer shot the 34-year-old Volar in the head and set fire to his home in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Last week, a series of demonstrations followed the innocent verdicts in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager who shot three people and killed two of them during a protest in Kenosha last summer. In at least one of these rallies, protesters linked the dots between the otherwise different cases of Rittenhouse, 18, and Kizer, now 21.
Self-defense arguments are at the heart of both cases, which have played out in the Kenosha County Courthouse.
On Sunday, Kizer’s name made its way into the cheers from protesters who want to see justice for the young woman. In the midst of another wave of public interest in Kizer’s case, here’s what you should know:
1. Volar had a long and miserable history with minors.
In the year before his death, Volar, who is white, had the police call him by a 15-year-old. She said she had been given drugs by a man who wanted to kill her, according to Washington Post.
After being charged with seduction of children, use of a computer to facilitate a child sex crime and second-degree sexual abuse of a child, Volar was arrested and released within the same day without requiring bail.
Kizer said Volar had known she was only 16 years old at their first meeting and that he continued to sexually abuse her while providing her with money for more than a year.
Volar was still being investigated for child trafficking and possession of child pornography when Kizer killed him. He had never been summoned to court because of the aforementioned charges. In addition, court documents state that there are over 20 videos of Volar assaulting young black girls sexually. His case came to Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley, which was widespread criticized for both his handling of that investigation and for trying to prosecute Kizer.
2. Kizer’s legal team says she acted in self-defense; the prosecution says her actions were premeditated.
Earlier this year, Kizer’s legal team decided to use an affirmative defense argument for the young woman. Affirmative defense involves the introduction of evidence proving that a defendant committed a crime only because of circumstances to which they had been forced. Even if one is found guilty of committing the act, affirmative defense laws offer a credible justification for a criminal act.
Thirty-five states have affirmative action laws, many of which are specifically designed for sex trafficking survivors, according to Washington Post.
In a 2019 interview with the Post, Kizer said she was trying to protect herself from Volar. She admitted to having killed him because she was tired of him touching her.
In a criminal case quoted of TMJ4, police said Kizer informed them “she could not walk without being blocked, and she thought Mr. Volar could jump out at her, so she shot him.”
“I did not intentionally try to do this,” Kizer told the Post.
When asked who she thought the victims were in the case, she gave an urgent honest answer.
“Both of us,” she said. “Because of the things he did to me. And that he should never be dead.”
Prosecutors allege the killing was premeditated and Kizer wanted to steal her BMW, which her brother was later found using.
Prosecutors also claim the teenager took a selfie after the killing, and a criminal complaint says she recorded a Facebook Live in which she boasted of having killed a “white guy” according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Kizer’s public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
3. Kizer faces five charges of crimes.
The 21-year-old faces five charges: first-degree premeditated murder, arson, operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent, being a criminal in possession of a firearm and bail.
4. Community leaders continue to rally for her freedom.
In June 2020, the Chicago Community Bond Fund posted $ 400,000 for Kizer’s bond after receiving mass donations following the assassination of George Floyd. At the time, Kizer had been in jail for two years while awaiting trial.
“The police and government systems set up to protect Chrystul failed her,” Read a statement about Kizer on the group’s website after it funded her release. “Instead of being given care and support from the beginning, she has been wrongfully imprisoned for almost two years now for having chosen to survive.”
The fund’s chief executive, Sharlyn Grace, said Kizer’s case is illustrative of a larger phenomenon.
“We see these issues as incredibly important … to protect and uplift and support the individual women who are predominantly black women,” Grace told Wisconsin Public Radio.
“Because the reality is that Chrystul Kizer was not kept safe by police and prosecution and imprisonment, and in fact, after she was forced to defend herself and she chose to survive, she was further harmed by these systems.”
In the wake of the verdict in Rittenhouse’s trial, a state representative did not say a word as he addressed the inequalities in society’s response to the two cases.
“Chrystul Kizer was in this building [the Kenosha County Courthouse] also advocates for her justice, ”said Democratic Attorney David Bowen said during a Sunday protest in Kenosha’s Civic Center Park. “And we did not hear any of you. And we did not hear anyone out there making noise for Kyle Rittenhouse.”
Brown even spoke out in Kizer’s defense in a January 2020 interview with BuzzFeed News’ “AM to DM.”
“Here was another situation where there was a young girl caught by some unfortunate circumstances who reacted from trauma,” Brown said. “And the judicial system did not necessarily try to hear it, but tried to see it.”
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