A Tennessee woman who at the age of 16 was tried as an adult, convicted of first-degree murder in 2004 and sentenced to life in prison must spend five decades in prison before she’s eligible for release, the state’s Supreme Court ruled last week.
Cyntoia Brown was 16 years old when she killed a 43-year-old Nashville man who had solicited her for sex. Brown has said she feared for her life after the client, a real estate agent named Johnny Mitchell Allen, had taken her back to his home and apparently was threatening to shoot her with one of the many guns she said were in his home. Brown pulled out a gun she kept in her purse and beat him to it, killing him.
At the time, Brown had been living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a man who went by the nickname “Cut-throat.” She has said he abused her physically and sexually, and forced her into a life of prostitution so that they could afford living expenses.
She has been in prison for 14 years and filed a lawsuit that her sentencing was unconstitutional because the Supreme Court has banned lifetime prison sentences for minors. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that “under state law, a life sentence is a determinate sentence of 60 years. However, the 60-year sentence can be reduced by up to 15 percent, or 9 years, by earning various sentence credits.” She will be 69 years old when she becomes eligible for release. That ruling is critical because her case is being ruled on by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and that federal court has asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to share its opinion before it issues a decision.
Brown’s case and plight have drawn interest from major celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, who have publicly supported her life sentenced being overturned. Earlier this year, Kardashian was successful in persuading President Donald Trump to commute the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who was hit with a life sentence after a first-time, non-violent drug conviction in the 1990s.
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