Woman sentenced to life as teen in killing wins clemency

NASHVILLE, Tennessee- (AP) — Fifteen years after Cyntoia Brown was charged with murder, the woman who said she was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim when she killed a man in 2004 is no longer under a life sentence.

Following years of national attention from criminal justice advocates, celebrities and politicians calling for mercy — and just days before he is to leave office — Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on Monday granted clemency to the now 30-year-old Brown.

“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,” Haslam said in his statement.

Brown will remain on parole supervision for 10 years on the condition she does not violate any state or federal laws, holds a job, and participates in regular counselling sessions.

While law enforcement officials had opposed clemency, arguing Brown was not justified in killing 43-year-old Johnny Allen, celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and singer Rihanna spoke out for Brown. The governor’s office received thousands of phone calls and emails from supporters.

Cyntoia Brown, entering her clemency hearing at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tennessee. – AP

“Thank you Governor Haslam,” Kardashian West tweeted soon after news of the clemency decision broke. Similar high-profile responses poured in from former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, actresses Alyssa Milano and Viola Davis.

Brown was convicted in 2006 of murdering Allen, a Nashville real estate agent. Police said she shot Allen in the back of the head at close range with a gun she brought to rob him after he picked her up at a drive-in theatre in Nashville to have sex with her.

Brown’s lawyers contended she was a victim of sex trafficking who not only feared for her life but also lacked the mental capacity to be culpable in the slaying because she was impaired by her mother’s alcohol use while she was in the womb.

According to court documents, Brown ran away from her adoptive family in Nashville in 2004 and began living in a hotel with a man known as “Cut Throat”, who forced her to become a prostitute. Court documents say he verbally, physically and sexually assaulted her.

One night, Allen picked up Brown at a Sonic Drive-In and she agreed to engage in sexual activity for USD150. Once at his place, Brown eventually got into Allen’s bed. Brown told authorities she thought he was reaching for a gun, so she shot him with a handgun from her purse.

She took two of his guns and his money from his wallet before fleeing the scene.

Brown expressed thanks in a statement released on Monday by her legal team.