Cyntoia Brown, sentenced to life at the age of 16, gets clemency

Brown, whose case drew national US attention, said she was a victim of child trafficking when she killed a man in 2004.

 Cyntoia Brown, enters her clemency hearing at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville [File: Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean/AP Photo]
Cyntoia Brown, enters her clemency hearing at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville [File: Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean/AP Photo]

Cyntoia Brown, who said she was a victim of child sex trafficking, was convicted of murder more than a decade ago and sentenced to life in prison. On Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted the now 30-year-old clemency.

Haslam, whose term ends in two weeks, said he would show mercy to Brown, whose case has attracted national attention, by releasing her on August 7. She will remain on parole for 10 years.

Brown said in a statement that she will do everything to justify Haslam’s faith in her and thanked her family for their support.

“I love you all and will be forever grateful,” she said. “With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”

Brown was convicted in 2006 of murdering 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen two years earlier. Police said she shot Allen in the back of the head at close range with a loaded gun she brought to rob him after he picked her up at a drive-in in Nashville.

However, according to her lawyers, Brown was a victim of sex trafficking who not only feared for her life but also lacked the mental state to be culpable in the slaying because she was impaired by her mother’s alcohol use while she was in the womb.

The US Supreme Court has ruled against life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. However, 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.

During her time in prison, Brown completed her GED and took college classes. She is currently one course away from finishing a Bachelor’s degree at Lipscomb University.

“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.

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‘Justice is finally served’

Nashville Mayor David Briley praised Haslam’s decision, calling it a “great day for social justice and our city.”

Others, including several celebrities who lobbied on Brown’s behalf, tweeted their appreciation to Haslam.

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who ran a close governor campaign in neighbouring Georgia, tweeted, “Justice has finally been served … This victory belongs to Cyntoia Brown & to the Tennessee human trafficking activists, especially Black women, who refused to concede to injustice & instead organized to create change.”

The ACLU said on Twitter that it is thrilled that Brown is finally receiving justice, but “Cyntoia never should have been sentenced so harshly to begin with, and we can’t lose sight of the fact that she is still receiving an excessive 10 years probation”.

The rights group added, “The fight against harsh sentencing lawsgoes on.”

Kim Kardashian West tweeted, “Thank you Governor Haslam.”

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies