NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A woman who says she was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim when she killed a man in 2004 was granted clemency Monday by Tennessee's governor and will be released from prison later this year.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who had been serving a life sentence but who will be released on parole on Aug. 7 — 15 years from the date she was first arrested.
"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, 30, 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 counseling sessions.
Brown's case has attracted national attention from criminal justice reform advocates, and the attention has amped up as Haslam's second and final term nears an end. He leaves office Jan. 19.
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.
"Thank you Governor Haslam," Kardashian West tweeted soon after news of the clemency decision broke, which was followed by similar high-profile responses 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 Sonic Drive-in fast-food restaurant in Nashville to have sex with her.
Brown's lawyers contended she was a sex trafficking victim who not only feared for her life but also lacked the mental capability 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 with a man known as "Cut Throat" in a hotel, who then forced her to become a prostitute. Court documents say the man 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 $150. Once at his place, Brown eventually got into Allen's bed. Brown told law enforcement officials 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 Monday by her legal team.
"I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without him," Brown said. "Let today be a testament to his saving grace."
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. Yet, the state of Tennessee argued successfully in lower courts that it was not in violation of federal law because Brown did have a possibility for parole: She was sentenced to serve at least 51 years of her life sentence.