The Republican Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, granted clemency on Monday to Cyntoia Brown, commuting the life sentence she had been granted for killing a man who picked her up for sex when she was a teenage trafficking victim.
Brown, 30, will be released to supervised parole in August, having served 15 years in prison.
“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16,” Governor Haslam said. “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.”
“Transformation should be accompanied by hope.”
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 seemed about 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 killed him.
Brown had been living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a man nicknamed “Cut-throat,” who she says had abused her physically and sexually, and forced her into a life of prostitution so that they could afford living expenses.
“He would explain to me that some people were born whores, and that I was one, and I was a slut, and nobody’d want me but him, and the best thing I could do was just learn to be a good whore,” Brown testified during her trial.
She was sentenced in 2004 to life in prison for first-degree murder and aggravated robbery, ineligible for parole until 2055.
Brown had garnered increasing support in recent years, from activists and lawmakers, as well as from major celebrities, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West. With Haslam leaving office later this month, lobbyists saw an opportunity for him to take into account the years of abuse and forced prostitution she had endured in her youth.
Brown was told the good news on Monday by one of her lawyers, Charles W. Bone. In a statement, she thanked the governor his mercy, promising “I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”
Brown turned her life around while in prison, achieving her high school equivalency diploma and an associate degree with a perfect grade point average, and is expected to earn her bachelor’s degree in May. She thanks Department of Corrections officials who helped her get an education and “saw something in me worth salvaging.”
Activists and other supporters pointed to Brown as an exemplar of the possibilities of rehabilitation, and the heavyhandedness of the criminal justice system. Brittany Paschall, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Nashville, said in a statement on Monday that Brown “should have never seen the inside of a cage.”
Brown’s release “represents a win, and restores hope for so many brown and black people,” said Bishop Joseph W. Walker III of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville.
Brown’s hope now is “to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”
Read the full story at The New York Times.