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The Harvard Law School chapter of the National Lawyers Guild published an open letter to District Attorney Michael D. Graveley of Kenosha, Wis., in December, calling on the prosecutor to drop all charges against 19-year-old Chrystul Kizer.
Kizer faces arson and first-degree homicide charges after confessing to the murder of Randy Volar, a 34-year-old man who had allegedly sexually abused Kizer since she was 16 years old. Police arrested Volar in Feb. 2018 but released him without bail the same day.
Shortly after, Kizer allegedly shot Volar twice, lit his body on fire, and fled the scene in his BMW.
The Law School student's letter called Graveley’s decision to prosecute Kizer a “cause for concern” and a “breach” of professional responsibilities.
“She deserves empathy and support for the horrible abuse she suffered at the hands of a grown man, not criminalization,” the letter reads. “‘Sound discretion’ and ‘justice’ in this case would clearly look like dropping the charges so she can move on with her life and recovery.”
In a Monday interview, Graveley disputed the research National Lawyers Guilds students had conducted on the case. He said the students did not contact him for information prior to disseminating the letter.
“From my perspective, if you accuse an attorney of being unethical, that's kind of the professional equivalent of accusing someone of a crime,” he said. “I would suggest that before you use an esteemed university’s name and before you cast judgment on the ethics of an attorney, that the least you can do is be sure you've diligently investigated all sides.”
The authors of the open letter declined to comment.
The letter also criticized Graveley’s interpretation of Wisconsin’s “safe harbor” law, which protects victims of human trafficking from criminal charges related to their abuse. Kizer’s defense argued this protection should apply to the arson and homicide charges in this case.
“Your insistence on prosecuting the case against the plan [sic] language meaning of the safe harbor law is bizarre and negligent,” the letter reads. “It seems to come from a place of racist fear of Chrystul, a young Black woman, and should have no place in the administration of the prosecutorial power.”
Graveley said the law has never been used to defend violent crimes, and that it only offers protection for crimes directly related to sexual abuse, such as prostitution.
“The trial court judge disagreed with the defense on that issue,” he said. “This is not an interpretation of the safe harbor law that has happened before in Wisconsin.”
Beyond Kizer’s case, the letter demands that the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office improve its procedures for handling cases of sexual abuse.
“You have a duty to improve and seek reform for the prosecutor’s office, not to go to extreme lengths to prosecute cases that do not belong in the courthouse to begin with,” it reads.
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