Cyntoia Brown's Life Sentence For Murder Commuted, Wins August Release Date
“My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been,” she says of life post-prison.
NASHVILLE, TN — The governor of Tennessee has granted full clemency to Cyntoia Brown, the woman accused of killing a man when she was allegedly a teenaged victim of sex trafficking. She will be released from prison on August 7 after serving 15 years of a life sentence.
“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16," Governor Bill Haslam said in a statement. "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.”
In prison, Brown, now 30, has managed to earn her General Education Development certification and an associate degree with a 4.0 grade-point average. In May, three months before her release, she expects to graduate with her bachelor’s degree.
"Over her more than 14 years of incarceration, Ms. Brown has demonstrated extraordinary growth and rehabilitation," Haslam noted. "Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”
Those conditions include Brown undergoing regular counseling sessions, finding a job, and serving at least 50 hours of community service — something she is happy to do since she will be able to work with at-risk kids.
“My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been,” Brown said in a statement after the governor’s decision.
In August 2004, Brown was a 16-year-old runaway living in a hotel with her abusive then-boyfriend, nicknamed “Cut Throat.” She claimed he forced her into prostitution, which is why she agreed to go home with 43-year-old real estate agent Johnny Allen for $150 after he picked her up at a Sonic in East Nashville.
According to Brown, she shot Allen in the back of the head, killing him, out of self-defense because she believed he was attempting to grab a gun under the bed and she feared for her life.
During the court case advocates for Brown, who was tried as an adult in 2006, cited in her defense her young age at the time of the crime and the possibility she suffered from the effects of fetal-alcohol syndrome.
But lawyers on the other side of the aisle insisted the teen, carrying a loaded gun in her purse the night of the homicide, targeted Allen. They pointed out Brown fled his home with his car, money, and guns.
"First and foremost, Cyntoia Brown did not commit this murder because she was a child sex slave as her advocates would like you to believe,” testified Nashville police detective Charles Robinson at trial. “Cyntoia Brown's motive for murdering Johnny Allen in his sleep was robbery.”
Robinson pointed out that Allen's "arms [were] folded underneath his head and his fingers were interlocked together," which conflicted with Brown’s account that he was going for a gun under the bed.
A jury ultimately sided with the prosecution and found Brown guilty of first-degree murder and robbery. In October 2006, a judge sentenced her to life in prison with the possibility of parole at age 69.
A spotlight was shone on Brown’s case for clemency after celebrities, including LeBron James, Kim Kardashian West, and Rhianna, took up her cause in 2017, railing against what they said was a broken legal system. The Tennessee Board of Parole recently agreed and voted in favor of commuting Brown’s sentence.
“I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received,” Brown said in her post-clemency statement. “We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings.”
Brown will be on supervised parole for 10 years after her release this summer.