Cyntoia Brown, a teenager sentenced to life for murder, granted clemency by Tennessee governor
On Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted full clemency to Cyntoia Brown, an alleged sex trafficking victim serving life in prison for murdering her john. Brown committed the crime at the age of sixteen and described it as an act of self-defense. During the rise of the #MeToo movement, her case drew national attention, attracting support from celebrities Rihanna, Amy Schumer and Kim Kardashian.
In 2004, Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old real estate agent, allegedly solicited Brown for sex and took her back to his house. When they were in bed, she fatally shot him in the back of the head. Prosecutors claimed the motive was robbery, while Brown claimed she did it because she thought he was grabbing a gun, and was scared for her life. The juvenile court found her competent to be tried as an adult, and in 2006, she was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery.
At the time of the murder, Brown had run away from her adoptive family, and was living with an abusive boyfriend nicknamed Cut Throat. She claims that he sexually assaulted her and forced her into prostitution. "The first time he did something to me is when he choked me and I passed out," she recalled, in the 2011 documentary Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story. "I made him money... he wasn't going to let me go nowhere. He told me he'd kill me."
Brown's biological mother was an alcoholic who admitted to heavily drinking while she was pregnant. The documentary introduced evidence that suggested Brown suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome in utero, which could have affected her mental state at the time of the crime. However, the jury that convicted her in 2004 was not aware of this information. Brown's attorneys petitioned the Tennessee parole board to commute her sentence, citing the new evidence and her traumatic experiences.
On August 7, Brown will be released from prison, after spending 15 years behind bars. During her sentence, she earned her GED and an associate's degree from Lipscomb University with a 4.0 GPA. She's also been working toward her bachelor's degree, and has only one course left to complete. Brown will be on parole supervision for 10 years, plans to spend her time counseling at-risk youth. "With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people," stated Brown "My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been."
"This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case," stated Governor Haslam. "Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. 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. Transformation should be accompanied by hope."
At a press conference, Brown thanked the governor for "act of mercy in giving me a second chance." "I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received," she said. "We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings."