Cyntoia Brown, who was convicted at the age of 16 for killing a man when she was a sex trafficking victim, was granted clemency Monday by Gov. Bill Haslam.
She will be eligible for release Aug. 7 after serving 15 years in prison and will remain on parole for 10 years.
Haslam, a said the decision comes after careful consideration of “what is a tragic and complex case.”
“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16,” Haslam said in a statement.
“Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.”
Who is Cyntoia Brown?
Cyntoia Brown, 31, was sentenced for life in prison for murder.
According to court documents, Brown had a tough childhood and was placed for adoption at a young age by her drug and alcohol abusing mother.
Brown’s mother drank a lot of alcohol during the pregnancy and as a result, Brown has a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder which can lead to “poor impulse control and a disconnect between thought and action,” according to CDC.
When she was 16, she ran away from her adoptive parents and moved to a motel with a man she called “Cut Throat” who was sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive. He forced her to become a prostitute and took all the money that she earned.
The case against Cyntoia Brown
On August 7, 2004, Nashville Police got a 911 call about a dead man and found the body of Johnny M. Allen at his house. He had been shot in the back of the head and was lying with the face down in the bed without any clothes on.
The day after, the police found Allen’s pick up truck in a parking lot where they found Brown’s fingerprints. The police immediately arrested Brown and they also found Allen’s wallet and gun in her motel room.
Brown told the investigators that Allen had taken her to his home where he became violent with his guns. Fearing for her life, she shot him with a handgun in self-defense.
The prosecutors, on the other hand, thought that Brown’s real motive was robbery and she was charged with first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery, despite her young age.
A documentary giving the case attention
In 2011, the documentary “Me Facing Life: The Cyntoia Brown Story,” made by Dan Birman was released. He had been following her case since 2004 and was upset by the way she had been treated.
In the documentary, Birman shines lights on different angles of the case such as Brown’s flawed trial, the way she was treated differently because of the fact that she was a woman of color doing sex work and the lack of social support for young women like Brown.
The documentary received a lot of attention and helped change the law in Tennessee, today children under the age of 18 can’t be tried for prostitution. If Brown had been arrested after the law was changed, she would have been treated as a child human trafficking victim.
Charles Bone, a prominent national attorney, saw the documentary and decided to help her for a 2012 appeal. He agreed that Brown has a high IQ but functions at a lower cognitive level due to her fetal alcohol disorder, her traumatic childhood and her abusive relationship with Cut Throat.
Celebrities supporting Cyntoia Brown
In 2017, the case got attention again when Rihanna shared Brown’s story on an Instagram post that read: “Imagine at the age of 16 being sex-trafficked by a pimp named ‘cut-throat.’ After days of being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men you were purchased by a 43-year-old child predator who took you to his home to use you for sex. You end up finding enough courage to fight back and shoot and kill him.”
Later on, celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Cara Delevingne shared the post and created the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown that was shared by thousands of people n social media.
Now, after 15 years in prison, she will be released.
“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me,” Brown said in a statement released by her attorneys.
“I also want to thank those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging, as well as educators from Lipscomb University who opened up a whole new world for me,” she continued.
She ended the statement with thanking her supporters for their prayers and encouragement.
“With God’s help, I am committed to living the rest of my life helping others, especially young people,” she said. “My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”