SAN FRANCISCO -- Sara Kruzan was 17 when she was sentenced to die in prison for killing and robbing a pimp in a Riverside motel. Now, at 32, Kruzan has a chance at being freed, along with thousands of other juveniles convicted of murder who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Those life sentences are coming under increased attack from activists, lawmakers and even the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles as unconstitutional "cruel and unusual" punishment. On Thursday, the California Assembly passed a bill by the slimmest of margins that would give juvenile lifers in that state a shot at freedom.

Nationwide, there are roughly 2,500 inmates who killed as juveniles that are serving life in prison without parole, including 309 California inmates serving such sentences, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"Because their brain is still developing, they have the ability to rehabilitate," said Michael Harris, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. "They are more likely to rehabilitate than an adult."

Despite the legal rulings and the legislative activity, some survivors of people killed by juveniles are pushing back and arguing that a life sentence is appropriate punishment for juveniles who commit heinous murders.

"They say they deserve a second chance, but the victims don't get a second chance," said Maggie Elvey, whose husband was murdered in 1993 by two teens during the robbery of his gun shop in Vista, Calif.

She called Thursday a "sad day" because of the California Assembly's passage of a bill introduced by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. The bill allows lifers to seek a sentence of 25-years-to-life with a chance for parole after serving 15 years. It passed the state Senate last year but failed repeatedly in the Assembly before Democrat lawmakers approved it by a single vote after a heated debate. The bill moves back to the state Senate for final approval. Passage is expected.

Criminal defense lawyer Daniel Horowitz, whose wife was murdered in 2005 by a 16 year old now serving life without parole, largely sides with Elvey.

Releasing most of the thousands of juvenile lifers "would open the gates of hell," Horowitz said.

"We aren't trying to punish these young people," he said. "We are trying to protect the public from this happening again."

Still, Horowitz said Kruzan may warrant an exception because of her compelling life story, which includes sexual abuse at a young age.

Kruzan's case began to garner widespread publicity in 2010 after Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview with her on YouTube that received 300,000 hits.

The year culminated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuting her sentence to 25-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on Dec. 31, 2010, his last full day in office. Schwarzenegger said he still considered her guilty of first-degree murder, but he sympathized with her defense that the man she killed had sexually abused her and served as her pimp for years.

"Given Ms. Kruzan's age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan's sentence is excessive," the governor wrote in his commutation message, "it is apparent that Ms. Kruzan suffered significant abuse starting at a vulnerable age."

Today, Kruzan is fighting for an even bigger reduction of her prison sentence, arguing she killed her pimp as a result of "intimate partner abuse," a defense that has until now been limited to battered wives and girlfriends.

In court documents, Kruzan said her pimp, George Gilbert Howard, began wooing her when she was 11 with ice cream, roller skating outings and rides in his Cadillac. Along the way, Kruzan said Howard sexually assaulted her and coerced her to work the streets of Riverside in Southern California as a prostitute beginning when she was 13.

Kruzan said in her clemency application that when she entered the motel room that night in 1994, all "the fear, anger and panic from all of the past abuse exploded inside of me and I shot him." Howard, 36, died of a neck wound.

Her lawyers are seeking a reduction of her first-degree murder conviction to manslaughter, which would mean her immediate release or a new trial. They contend her case should fall under a 2005 California law enabling domestic violence victims serving lengthy murder sentences to seek shorter ones if their attorneys had failed to invoke domestic violence as a defense.

Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach will decide whether to free her, schedule a hearing or do nothing, letting her life sentence stand. Zellerbach, who has until Sept. 18 to decide, declined comment.

Meanwhile, courts in Florida, California and elsewhere are beginning to examine yet another wrinkle of "extreme" sentences for juveniles: the "de facto" life sentence.

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court unanimously overturned a 110-year sentence of a 16-year-old gang member Rodrigo Caballero for attempted murder, ruling it was essentially an unconstitutional life sentence. The court called on lawmakers to prohibit juvenile prison sentences for non-homicide crimes without a meaningful chance for parole.

Prison Breaks:

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  • Michael David Elliot

    In this surveillance photo from a Middlebury, Ind., gas station provided by the Michigan State Police is Michael David Elliot who escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility in mid-Michigan Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014 after creating a hole at the bottom of the two perimeter fences and crawling through, according to authorities. Elliot was serving a life sentence for fatally shooting four people and burning down their Gladwin County house in 1993.

  • Ronaldo Silva

    Ronaldo Silva allegedly broke out of a Brazilian prison by dressing in drag in April 2012. He was caught less than an hour later by a cop who noticed that he was walking funnily in heels. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/prison-escape-in-drag_n_1431558.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>

  • Tiffany Hurd

    Tiffany Hurd, 36, actually allegedly commited a jail break-IN. She was nabbed in July 2012 trying to hop a barbed-wire fence to enter Butler County Jail in Ohio. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/tiffany-hurd-jail-ohio_n_1719531.html" target="_hplink">Read more. </a>

  • Philippine Jail Break

    Eleven prisoners, including bandit leader Datukan Samad, allegedly hacksawed their way through the iron grills of Maguindanao Province Jail in July 2012. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/philippine-jail-escape-datukan-samad_n_1661789.html" target="_hplink"> Read more.</a>

  • Kansas Jailbreak

    This picture shows 3 of the 4 inmates who allegedly escaped from a central Kansas jail in April 2012. Murderer Santos Carrera-Morales (center), kidnapper Eric James (left), assault convict Alberto Barraza-Lujan (not pictured) and aggravated battery convict Drew Wade (right) were all eventually discovered in Nebraska by authorities. The incident raised questions about prison security. 3 of the 4 prisoners allegedly drove away from the jail in a Nissan Altima. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/santos-carrera-morales-escaped-murderer-caught_n_1440194.html" target="_hplink"> Read more.</a>

  • Bobcat Break-In

    Sometimes furry critters want to join the convicts. In July 2012, authorities removed a bobcat crawling around the roof of the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington. Check out the animalicious video <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/bobcat-breaks-into-prison_n_1679634.html" target="_hplink">here.</a>

  • Cortez Hooper, Quincy Stewart

    Murder suspects Hooper and Stewart allegedly escaped from a jail in Arkansas in May 2012. The pair reportedly used a hacksaw to break the bars on the windows of their second-story cells and smashed a pane of glass. Authorities say they pushed their mattresses out the window to soften their landings. The two were discovered by authorities shortly thereafter. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/arkansas-jail-break-manhunt_n_1551158.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>

  • Failed Jail Break Plot

    Donald Kohut and Justin Heflin were charged with plotting to help murderer Christa Pike escape from prison in March 2012. Pike was convicted with her then-boyfriend of the 1996 slaying of Colleen Slemmer. The motive for murder was believed to stem from a love triangle. Pike and Tadaryl Shipp carved a pentagram into Slemmer's chest and then stabbed and beat her to death, according to authorities. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/christa-gail-pike-jail-break_n_1369934.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>

  • Suitcase Prison Plot

    In July 2011, Maria del Mar Arjona, 19, allegedly tried to sneak her inmate husband Juan Ramirez Tijerina out of prison in Mexico in some luggage. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/04/suitcase-prison-escape-mexico_n_890012.html" target="_hplink"> Read more.</a>

  • Armin Christian

    Armin Christian, 65, was found in May 2012 after fleeing prison in South Carolina 31 years ago. Christian was reportedly living in Rhode Island as a handyman under a new name. He was originally sentenced to 11 months in prison for failing to pay child support. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/25/armin-christian-arrested-escaping-prison-south-carolina_n_1545604.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>

  • Man Got Out To Get Off

    Even inmates can get horny. In March 2012, murder suspect Arien L'Italien allegedly left his cell and wandered over to the women's inmate block, in order to have sex with Karla Wilson. Authorities spotted L'Italien as he was crawling back to his cell. L'Italian and Wilson were both then transferred to different areas of the facility. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/13/arien-litalien-escapes-jail-sex-karla-wilson-maine_n_1342421.html" target="_hplink">Read more.</a>