Chrystul Kizer, a 19-year-old who was charged in the 2018 killing of a man who prosecutors said sexually abused her, was released from a Wisconsin jail on Monday after a bail fund in Chicago paid her $400,000 bond.
Ms. Kizer was 17 when she shot Randall Volar, 34, in Kenosha, Wis., on June 5, 2018. She has been awaiting trial for two years, and her case has received widespread attention from supporters and activists who say she acted in self-defense and was a victim of sex trafficking.
“It was incredible to see that we were able to bond Chrystul out,” said Santera Matthews, an organizer with the Chrystul Kizer Defense Committee, which has been working with other organizations to raise awareness about the case.
“People believe that she is a survivor, and that she was punished for surviving,” Ms. Matthews said, adding that the case is an example of the ways the criminal justice system has failed to protect black women and girls.
Ms. Kizer, who is black, first met Mr. Volar, who was white, when she was 16. On the night of the killing, Ms. Kizer traveled to Mr. Volar’s home in an Uber that he paid for, and spent several hours there before shooting him, according to Kenosha News, a local outlet, which cited statements made in court. She then set a fire in the home and left in his vehicle, the outlet reported.
At the time of his death, Mr. Volar had been under police investigation for possession of child pornography and sex trafficking.
When she left the jail on Monday, Ms. Kizer carried bags full of letters of support that people had mailed to her, said Sharlyn Grace, the executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which paid Ms. Kizer’s bond.
Ms. Grace said that the organization was able to steer funds toward Ms. Kizer’s case after it was “flooded with donations over the past several weeks,” which she attributed to increased activism after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others during encounters with the police.
Ms. Kizer still faces charges of arson and premeditated homicide, which could carry a sentence of life in prison. Her defense lawyers did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Her supporters have called for prosecutors to drop the charges altogether.
Michael Graveley, the Kenosha County district attorney, said he did not dispute that Mr. Volar had committed felony sex crimes against Ms. Kizer. Mr. Volar had been under investigation for sex crimes and was arrested in February 2018, but was released shortly after.
Mr. Graveley argued that the killing should be prosecuted as a premeditated murder, based partly on text messages and social media posts from Ms. Kizer. Court documents show that Ms. Kizer made a Facebook post on June 8 in which she appeared to display a pistol and said that she was not afraid to kill again.
Mr. Graveley acknowledged the widespread attention the case had received and said that it should be up to a jury to weigh all of the facts.
“Permitting vigilante justice, which is the narrative from some seeking dismissal, is a highly subjective, slippery slope,” Mr. Gravely said. “A jury may be best to decide guilt or innocence in these circumstances, and a judge can then decide the punishment, if any. The judge and jury will always have more complete facts than what’s available on the internet.”
Ms. Kizer could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. In an interview with The Washington Post last year, she said she had met Mr. Volar after she posted on backpage.com, a website that has been accused in various jurisdictions of enabling sex trafficking.
Ms. Kizer said that her relationship with Mr. Volar involved sexual abuse, money and gifts, and that he had also made money by arranging for her to meet up with other men in hotels. “He was a grown-up, and I wasn’t,” she said. “So I listened.”
She added that she had been pinned to the floor by Mr. Volar shortly before shooting him. “I didn’t intentionally try to do this,” she said.
Ms. Kizer’s case echoed that of Cyntoia Brown, a trafficking victim who served 15 years of a life sentence for killing a man who had picked her up when she was a teenager. Ms. Brown, now 32, was granted clemency in January 2019 and was released from a Tennessee prison in August.
The Chicago Community Bond Fund said that when Ms. Kizer’s case was over, the majority of the returned bond money would be steered to a national bail fund for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Ms. Grace noted the recent influx of donations to the Chicago fund and said that this was only one of many ways that organizers were working to address racial injustice in the United States. “Bail funds alone are just one tiny part of this much larger movement, and we have to be investing resources in lifting up day-to-day community organizing,” she said.
Mia Noel of the Milwaukee Freedom Fund, one of the organizations that has been supporting Ms. Kizer and her family, said in a statement on Sunday that protesters nationwide were calling for a “better world” that “protects, not punishes, young black survivors like Chrystul.”
“Her case deepens the current calls for justice and the need to keep fighting to transform our society,” Ms. Noel said.