Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has ordered the early release of Cyntoia Brown, a sex-trafficking victim whose story gained national attention after a 2011 documentary about her case. She was facing decades in prison for murder, but she'll now instead spend 10 years on parole, starting in August.
Brown was just 16 in 2004 when she was charged of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery as an adult and then convicted and sentenced to life in prison two years later. Now 30, she has been in prison since 2006, at Tennessee Prison for Women, in Nashville. The Tennessee Supreme Court decided in December that Brown would be eligible for release after serving 51 years, when she would be 67 years old.
In 2004, the body of 43-year-old Johnny Allen was found face down and naked in a bed at his Nashville home, with a gunshot hole in the back of his head. Police soon arrested Brown, who was found in a hotel — where she was staying with her pimp — after stealing Allen’s truck, wallet, and some of his weapons. Brown claimed that Allen had solicited her for sex and became violent once she was alone with him. She maintains she killed him in self-defense.
After her release, set for Aug. 7, she'll be required to gain employment and attend counseling.
“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.”
Brown’s supporters have pointed to her case as an example of deep flaws in the American criminal justice system. Rihanna, LeBron James, Snoop Dogg, and many more celebrities have called for Brown’s early release since her story gained widespread attention.
After Haslam’s decision, Brown and her attorneys released a statement celebrating the decision.
“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy and giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me,” Brown said.
“With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”
Cover: Cyntoia Brown appears in court during her clemency hearing at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, May 23, 2018. (Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean via AP, Pool)