Article byDec. 17, 2019
Now Chrystul Kizer, who was 16 when she met Randy Volar, is accused of murdering her alleged sex trafficker. She faces life in prison.
KENOSHA, Wis. — Metal cuffs strained against her ankles as she shuffled down the courthouse hallway. She passed her mother, who had grown used to seeing her teen daughter in a jail uniform. She passed the activists, who saw her as a victim of child sex trafficking.
She entered the courtroom, where she was facing life in prison on charges of murdering her alleged sex trafficker.
“The court calls 18CF643,” said the judge at this November hearing. “State of Wisconsin versus Chrystul Kizer.”
Chrystul looked up at him, then down at her hands. She sat between the public defenders assigned to her when she couldn’t afford her own lawyer. Beside them was the district attorney, the lead prosecutor for Kenosha County, a lakefront community of about 169,000 people between Milwaukee and Chicago.
Both sides agreed to certain facts about what had brought them here:
When Chrystul was 16, she met a 33-year-old man named Randy Volar.
Volar sexually abused Chrystul multiple times.
He filmed it.
She wasn’t the only one — and in February 2018, police arrested Volar on charges including child sexual assault. But then, they released him without bail.
Volar, a white man, remained free for three months, even after police discovered evidence that he was abusing about a dozen underage black girls.
He remained free until Chrystul, then 17, went to his house one night in June and allegedly shot him in the head, twice. She lit his body on fire, police said, and fled in his car.
A few days later, she confessed. District Attorney Michael Graveley, whose office knew about the evidence against Volar but waited to prosecute him, charged Chrystul with arson and first-degree intentional homicide, an offense that carries a mandatory life sentence in Wisconsin.
Graveley says he believes Chrystul’s crime was premeditated. The evidence, he argues, shows she planned to murder Volar so she could steal his BMW.
Chrystul, now 19, maintains she was defending herself. Speaking publicly from jail for the first time, she said that when she told Volar she didn’t want to have sex that night, he pinned her to the floor.
“I didn’t intentionally try to do this,” she said.
Her case comes at a time when police and prosecutors across the country are reevaluating how victims of sex trafficking should be treated. This year, Tennessee released Cyntoia Brown, whose story went viral in the midst of the #MeToo movement. She went to prison at age 16 and served 15 years for killing a man who purchased her for sex.
Brown’s story, along with the downfall of financier Jeffrey Epstein and singer R. Kelly, reveal what most child sex trafficking actually looks like in America: vulnerable kids, not kidnapped and held captive, not chained and smuggled across borders, but groomed by someone they trust and manipulated into believing they are the ones to blame for the abuse.
Under federal law, all children who are bought or sold for sex are trafficking victims, regardless of the circumstances. Thirty states and the District have stopped charging minors with prostitution.
Most states also have a law that gives sex-trafficking victims an “affirmative defense.” If they can prove at trial they committed a crime because they were being trafficked, they can be acquitted of certain charges against them.
Wisconsin is one of those states — and Chrystul wanted to use that law to defend her actions. Despite prosecutors’ certainty that her crime was premeditated, her lawyer argues she still has a complete defense to the charges.
But the affirmative defense law has never been used in a homicide or any other violent crime. Not in Wisconsin and, as far as advocates know, not anywhere else.
At this hearing, the judge was going to decide whether it could be.
With handcuffs on her wrists, Chrystul pulled at the rosary around her neck. Behind her, the courtroom was filled with her supporters and with members of Volar’s family.
“Your honor,” her lawyer began, and Chrystul listened closely as the men debated what she deserved.
‘House is burning!’
Just after 5 a.m. on the morning of June 5, 2018, a woman looked out the window of her Kenosha home and spotted flames on the roof of the tiny tan ranch house on the corner. She punched 911 into her phone.
“Fire!” she told the dispatcher. “House is burning!”
“Do you know if anyone is in the house?” the dispatcher asked.
Within two minutes, Kenosha police arrived to find the answer. Inside, a badly charred body lay slumped on the ground. There were two gunshot wounds in the head.
Dispatchers said that earlier that year, the house was involved in a call about a runaway child. Officers didn’t yet know the details of that case, but it did give them a name for the homeowner: Randall Phillip Volar III, who went by Randy.
Police combed the house for evidence. Alcohol bottles on the floor. A pizza box in the fridge. Multiple hotel room keys. Credit card records showed that the night before, he paid for an Uber from Milwaukee to his home. The Uber driver told police he had given a ride to a short black girl named “Chrystal.”
Neighbors reported that there was usually a BMW in Volar’s driveway. The car was found abandoned in Milwaukee. A receipt inside led police to a Family Dollar store, where security footage revealed that four teens had driven the BMW. One of them said he had a sister named Chrystul Kizer.
Police found her Facebook page, filled with photos of a slender girl who wore long, colorful wigs. On the night of the fire, she posted a selfie at 3:10 a.m. Behind her were curtains detectives recognized from Volar’s house. The caption: “My Mug Shot.”
Three days later, Chrystul live-streamed on Facebook. She talked about giving her brother a BMW. She showed off a gun. She told her 20-year-old boyfriend, Delane Nelson, “I don’t want to shoot anybody else.”
The next morning, police drove a battering ram into Nelson’s front door. They found Chrystul inside, a shower cap on her head. Zip ties were placed around her wrists as she was escorted into a squad car.
Her bail was set at $1 million.
As they investigated Chrystul, detectives were gathering information about Volar. He lived alone in the cramped 360-square-foot, one-bedroom house. He graduated from high school in 2001 and described himself as self-employed. He was 5 foot 8 inches tall and about 200 pounds. His autopsy showed he had been born with missing fingers and toes, and a right leg shorter than the left. His parents divorced in 2009, and three years later, Volar wore a suit and a red rose boutonniere to be the best man for his father, Randall P. Volar Jr., when he remarried at a golf resort.
But most of what detectives needed to know was already sitting in a police file. The “runaway” report mentioned by dispatchers was actually something much more serious: a sex crimes investigation that had been underway for months.
It began with another 911 call, this one just before 1 a.m. on Feb. 12, 2018. According to police reports obtained by The Washington Post, a 15-year-old girl calling from Volar’s house told dispatchers that a man had given her drugs, and now he was going to kill her. Then, she hung up.
Officers found her wandering the streets, wearing only a bra under an unzipped jacket. Her pupils were dilated. She said she had taken LSD.
The girl eventually told police she met Volar the year before when he responded to an ad on Backpage.com. The site was one of the country’s largest prostitution marketplaces until it was shut down for involvement in human trafficking last year. The girl said Volar paid her $250 for sex the first time they met — when she was 14 — then $100 each time after that.
She told police he knew how old she was, because when she suggested he find women his own age, he elaborated on why he preferred the bodies of young girls like her.
In December 2017, the girl ran away from home and moved in with Volar. He gave her money, took her shopping and even took her out to dinner with his mother, she said.
The girl showed signs of what sex crimes experts call “trauma bonding.” Volar was nice to her, she said, and she didn’t want to get him in trouble. She called him her “friend.”
She said Volar was sexually abusing other underage girls, too — and filming it. She’d seen the videos.
“Sometimes he goes to Milwaukee to find young girls,” the police report said. She told detectives the first names of at least three of them, including one named “Chrystal.”
On Feb. 22, police searched Volar’s house. They confiscated laptops, hard drives and memory cards, along with women’s pajamas, bikini bottoms and underwear.
Volar was arrested. The charges: child enticement, using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime and second-degree sexual assault of a child, a felony punishable by up to 40 years in state prison.
Miriam Falk, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor in Wisconsin, said those charges typically lead to a substantial cash bail, upward of $100,000 if the person involved is wealthy. Add in video evidence and the case would be a “dream” for prosecutors. “That would be a very difficult case to defend,” Falk said.
But on the same day police arrested Volar, they released him. Records indicate he paid no bail but was told he would be summoned to court.
The court summons never came…
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