Tennessee governor grants clemency to 30-year-old woman sentenced to life at 16

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on Monday announced that he had granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, now 30, who is serving a life sentence for the 2004 murder of a man who had arranged to have sex with her in exchange for payment. Brown was 16 at the time. She is to be released from prison on August 7 and remain on parole for ten years.

Haslam in 2012, from file.
Image: US Department of Agriculture.

"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," said Governor Haslam, "especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope."

Brown was tried as an adult rather than in juvenile court. Prosecutors claimed the murder of 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen was premeditated, that Brown shot him while he was asleep so she could steal his money, guns and truck. Brown's lawyers argued she was in fear for her life and only took Allen's money so she would not return to her pimp with nothing.

WZTV news anchor Stacy Case remarked, "If Cyntoia Brown were tried today, legal experts say she would not have been tried in the same way[...] Our courts today would view her as a child sex slave[...] she would be viewed as a victim[.]"

Public figures such as Ashley Judd and Rhianna had spoken of Brown's case publicly and asked for clemency. Brown's trial also inspired a documentary, My Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story, in 2011 that contributed to discussion about Tennessee's view of sex trafficking and juvenile crimes. Tennessee's sentencing guidelines for juvenile offenders have since changed.

"If you look at Cyntoia's original transcripts, they are peppered with the phrase 'teen prostitute,'" says Derri Smith of End Slavery Tennessee. "Well we know today there's no such thing as a teen prostitute ... because this teen may think that she decided this was her idea to be raped multiple times a day and give money to someone else, it's pretty clear there's an adult behind that who's manipulating and exploiting her."

While in prison, Brown earned an Associate's Degree and has been working toward a Bacherlor's.