When police arrived at Randall Volar’s Kenosha, Wisconsin home in the early morning hours of June 5, 2018, it was engulfed in flames. Inside, detectives found the 34-year-old man’s body slumped in a living room chair. He had been shot twice in the head.
His corpse was “badly charred and unrecognizable,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.
Months earlier, Volar had been arrested on child rape charges and was also accused of sexually abusing multiple teenage girls — some as young as 12 — and filming the lurid acts, according to the Washington Post. Police seized a trove of child pornography, as well as roughly 20 home videos depicting Volar having sex with underage black girls. The case was pending at the time of his death; he was facing up to 40 years in prison.
But it still wasn’t clear to authorities who exactly wanted Volar dead. In the scorched ruins of his home, police found scant evidence. But a BMW, which was normally parked in his driveway, was missing. Milwaukee police recovered Volar’s vehicle and discovered a Family Dollar store receipt inside, as well as a Samsung cell phone. These clues led detectives to four teenage suspects.
One of them was a 17-year-old named Chrystul Kizer.
Detectives learned the teenager uploaded a selfie to Facebook that appeared to show her at Volar’s home hours before he was killed. Following the Volar’s death, Kizer then posted a live video brandishing a pistol and ammunition, police said. Kizer allegedly told the camera she wasn’t afraid to “kill again,” and spoke of a “rich, white individual.” Detectives also discovered she shared an article about the fire at Volar’s home.
Kizer eventually told investigators she had been drinking and eating pizza at Volar’s home on the night of his death. She pumped two bullets into his skull and fled in his BMW, she told police, after he tried to sexually assault her. Volar’s killing, she insisted, was in self-defense.
“He started to touch my leg and then like I had jumped and tell him that I didn’t want to do that,” she told the Post. “I tried to get up, to get away from him but I had tripped, and I fell on the floor, and he had got on top of me. And he was trying to like, rip my pants off, my jeans that I had on.”
Kizer told police her boyfriend had purchased the .380 calibre handgun used to kill Volar. Police accused Kizer of stealing cash and a laptop from Volar, as well. She was charged with first-degree murder in his death.
But Kizer’s case is unfolding at a time when courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement are grappling with how to treat sex-trafficking victims.
Kizer, who had been sex-trafficked for profit online by Volar, was also one of the victims pictured in his self-made child porn videos police had previously seized and were investigating. And she shot him in the head after years of surviving his sexual abuse.
Kizer said she met Volar in 2016 after he responded to her posting on Backpage.com — the classifieds site suspected of selling sex, which was shut down nearly two years ago. Kizer told the Post she created the posting because she needed money for snacks and school supplies. Over time, Volar supposedly showered her with affection, bought her fancy meals, and let her drive his car.
But he was soon selling the young woman on the same sex classified website they met on, shuttling her to and from Milwaukee motels where random men would have sex with the teenager for cash, which Volar allegedly kept, according to the Post. Bank officials later told detectives that Volar had conducted more than $1.5 million in online money transfers. The pattern of those transactions, they said, were typically consistent with human trafficking.
In some ways, Kizer’s case mirrors that of Cyntoia Brown, who at 16 fatally shot Johnny Michael Allen, a Tennessee real estate broker who supposedly paid her $150 for sex. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted Brown clemency and she was released earlier this year after serving 15 years of a life sentence.
“Chrystul’s story, unfortunately, follows a pattern in the United States where the state fails black women and black girls and then punishes them for acting in life-saving ways,” Santera Michels, a criminal justice activist, told Oxygen.com.
Michels, 29, is one of the founders of Free Chrystul Kizer, a Facebook group she formed with others who are calling for charges against the Wisconsin teenager to be dropped. She sends Kizer jailhouse letters and regularly corresponds with Kizer’s mother, she said. Michels, who described Kizer as a “talented” violinist and artist and an “incredibly kind, loving” person, is horrified Kizer could spend the rest of her life in prison.
“Her life was in danger — so she acted in a way to save it,” Michels said.
Michels said she’s frustrated with authorities who took their time — and, she said, treated him too leniently — in building their earlier case against him.
“Where were the Kenosha Police and the district attorney when Volar was harming her and others?” she asked. “[They] knew what Volar was doing and yet they did nothing.”
In 2018, Volar was released from police custody without posting bail. In most states, child sex crime charges carry bonds of tens, if not, hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s not clear to Michels why Volar was released without shelling out a single cent after his initial arrest. By contrast, Kizer was initially held on a $1 million bond following her arrest.
Kizer’s lawyers argued last month that she shouldn’t be held criminally responsible under affirmative defense, a broad law that protects sex-trafficking victims who may have committed crimes as a direct result of being trafficked.
“We believe that if we present some evidence Ms. Kizer is a victim of trafficking — and we also believe we can do that — and that her actions were a direct result of trafficking … then the State has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that those things did not exist,” Kizer’s lawyer Carl Johnson argued in November, according to court transcripts obtained by Oxygen.com.
However, a judge ultimately ruled the affirmative defense didn’t apply to Kizer’s case. Prosecutors noted that the statute had never been used to shield a human or sex-trafficking victim from murder charges.
“I’ve never seen a case like this before,” Amanda J. Peters, a professor of law at South Texas College of Law Houston, told Oxygen.com.
Peters, a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, is sympathetic to Kizer’s situation. But she, too, doesn’t a recall affirmative defense ever being applied to a murder case.
“It typically shields human trafficking victims from being prosecuted for things like prostitution or immigration fraud,” she explained. “It has never been raised to apply to murder.”
The Kenosha County District Attorney’s office has also argued that Volar’s death was premeditated. They said Kizer planned to steal Volar’s car days before his death and texted acquaintances about killing him.
Kizer’s attorneys declined to comment on Thursday.
In 2017, Kizer was convicted for eluding police in a stolen vehicle during a traffic stop, according to a separate criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com. She was a getaway driver, she confessed, in a small crew that hijacked cars; she said they were responsible for 20 carjackings in south Milwaukee. Kizer was sentenced to 14 months in prison on those charges.
Kizer’s murder trial is scheduled to begin on March 16, online court records show. The 19-year-old faces life in prison if convicted. Kizer also faces arson, auto theft, bail jumping, and gun charges.