A sex trafficking victim accused of killing a man who allegedly trafficked her can argue at trial that she was justified in killing him, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a decision that could help define the limits of legal immunity for trafficking victims nationwide.
Prosecutors say Chrystul Kizer traveled to Randall Volar’s home in Kenosha in June 2018. Kizer, who was 17 at the time, shot him in the head, burned down the house and stole his BMW, according to court documents.
Kizer, now 22, contends she met Volar on a sex-trafficking website. She says he sexually assaulted her and sold her to others for sex. She told detectives she shot him after he tried to touch her, according to the criminal complaint.
Her attorneys have argued that she’s immune from prosecution under a 2008 state law that absolves sex trafficking victims of any offenses resulting from being trafficked. Nearly 40 states have passed laws that give trafficking victims at least some level of criminal immunity, according to Legal Action of Wisconsin, which provides legal help for low-income people.
They had planned to invoke the immunity law at her trial on charges that include arson and first-degree intentional homicide, but Kenosha County Circuit Judge David Wilk refused to allow it. He ruled that immunity extends only to trafficking-related charges such as restraining someone, extortion, prostitution or slave labor. An appellate court ruled last year, however, that Kizer could argue that the law shields her from prosecution.
State attorneys asked the high court to reverse that decision, maintaining that the immunity statutes can’t possibly extend to homicide. First-degree intentional homicide carries a mandatory life sentence.
Assistant Attorney General Timothy Barber said during oral arguments in March that Kizer’s interpretation would create an unprecedented expansion of the self-defense doctrine, eliminating any questions about whether killing someone was reasonable or necessary.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision isn’t binding on other states but could inform attorney strategies in similar cases elsewhere in the country, legal experts say.
Anti-violence groups lined up to support Kizer, filing briefs in her case saying that trafficking victims often feel so trapped they believe they have to take matters into their own hands.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are sexual assault victims, but Kizer discussed her case in an interview from jail with The Washington Post that was published in 2019.