Nearly two years after 17-year-old Chrystul Kizer was arrested in the killing her alleged sex trafficker, supporters across the country and celebrities behind the #MeToo movement are calling for her release — an outpouring of support that prompted the Wisconsin prosecutor in the case to defend his office on Facebook.
Almost 90,000 people as of Tuesday had signed a petition asking Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley to drop all charges against Kizer, who is facing life in prison.
Graveley argues that Kizer planned the murder of Randall Volar III, 34, to steal his BMW. Kizer, now 19, says she was acting in self-defense because Volar, who had been sexually abusing her for nearly two years, tried to pin her down.
Kizer's case garnered attention last month when the Washington Post published a report detailing the abuse she and other underage black girls experienced at Volar's hands, and how much police and prosecutors knew about it before he was killed.
"This case is appalling," tweeted Alyssa Milano, an actress credited with popularizing the #MeToo movement in 2017.
Tarana Burke, the movement's founder, publicized Kizer's story on Instagram. "The case of #ChrystulKizer requires our attention *before* she is convicted and given a life sentence," Burke said.
Milano and Burke were among those who advocated for the release of Cyntoia Brown-Long, a sex trafficking victim who spent 15 years in prison for killing a man who purchased her for sex when she was 16. After being granted clemency by the governor of Tennessee, Brown-Long was released in August, becoming the face of an anti-trafficking movement.
In an op-ed, Brown-Long argued that laws must be changed to protect victims.
"Chrystul, and all trafficking survivors, deserve the kind of justice that boldly acknowledges: 'Your life matters, too,' " she wrote in the Post.
Brown-Long criticized a judge's recent ruling declaring that a Wisconsin law designed to protect trafficking victims did not apply to the charges against Kizer. Her attorneys plan to appeal the ruling.
Kizer was charged with arson and first-degree intentional homicide — an offense that carries a mandatory life sentence in Wisconsin — in June 2018. In the legal proceedings that followed, the nature of her connection with Volar became clear. The two met on Backpage, a now-shuttered prostitution website, when Kizer was 16. Volar sexually abused her multiple times and filmed it. Kizer told the Post that Volar also posted her on Backpage, then drove her to hotels to be sexually abused by other men.
"He was a grown-up, and I wasn't," she said. "So I listened."
As Kizer's story spread to other publications, Graveley took to social media to discuss the case — a move uncharacteristic for prosecutors, who are ethically prohibited from making public comments that could influence a judge or jury. Graveley posted a lengthy statement on his campaign Facebook page.
"I am respectfully asking folks who are interested in the Chrystul Kizer case to reserve judgment until the facts are presented in court at trial," he wrote.
In an interview, Graveley said he felt compelled to write the post because his office received more than 100 calls and social media messages about the case, some of which were "abusive and threatening."
He is not planning to drop the charges against Kizer.
"A prosecutor can't make decisions about criminal cases based on how many people contact the office," he said.