Cyntoia Brown, the 30-year-old Tennessee woman convicted of murder as a teenager and serving a life sentence, has been granted clemency by Gov. Bill Haslam. Brown is scheduled to be released August 7, 2019, after serving 15 years in prison.
“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said. “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. Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”
Brown’s parole conditions will require that she not violate any state or federal laws, and she will be subject to a release plan approved by the Tennessee Department of Correction and special supervision conditions, including employment, education, counseling, and community engagement requirements. Parole supervision will continue until August 7, 2029, at which point Brown’s sentence will expire. She will complete re-entry programming prior to her release from custody in August in order to facilitate a successful transition to the community.
In 2006, Brown received a life sentence for the 2004 murder of 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen. Brown, who was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim, committed the crime in self-defense from Allen who purchased her for sex. The Tennessee Supreme Court recently ruled that Brown must serve 51 years in prison before she’s eligible for release. Without action from the governor, Brown would not have been eligible for parole consideration until 2055.
While in prison, Brown has earned her GED and completed an associate degree through the Lipscomb LIFE program with a 4.0 GPA. Numerous Department of Correction employees and volunteers attest to her extraordinary personal transformation while incarcerated.
Support for Brown’s clemency drew national attention from legislators and celebrities including Amy Schumer, Rihanna, T.I., Kim Kardashian West, LeBron James, and others after the release of a documentary chronicling her life, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story.
Many local legislators, including Gov. Haslam, are calling for a change to Tennessee laws in regard to juvenile sentences.
“While we have spent a considerable amount of time studying and implementing sentencing and criminal justice reform in our state, there is more work to be done,” Haslam said. “I am hopeful serious consideration of additional reforms will continue, especially with respect to the sentencing of juveniles.”
State Sen. Brenda Gilmore thanks Gov. Bill Haslam, congratulates Cyntoia Brown on obtaining a deserved second chance
State Sen. Brenda Gilmore, one of Cyntoia Brown’s staunchest supporters, released the following statement on hearing of Gov. Haslam’s decision to grant clemency.
I want to sincerely thank Gov. Bill Haslam for being courageous in the face of a serious decision. Gov. Haslam reviewed the case and listened to thousands of voices resonating across Tennessee and around the country. Although Brown made a grave mistake when she was 16, her mistake should not result in the forfeiture of her entire life. Brown was raised in an environment saturated with physical and psychological abuse. She was later raped and trapped in a life of sex trafficking by an abusive pimp. These were the circumstances in which a man was tragically killed during his purchase of Cyntoia, a minor, for sex. Gov. Haslam saw that life in prison was not justice for this abused teenager. I thank Gov. Haslam for showing compassion for a Black woman, which society often overlooks.
I congratulate Cyntoia Brown for making the best out of her life after this tragedy. The state of Tennessee and countless adults let her down during her childhood. But since her incarceration, Cyntoia has done all that she can do to improve and empower herself. She has obtained a college degree and serves as a mentor to empower other female victims of sexual violence. Cyntoia is the number one reason that she is getting this second chance, because she has grown and embraced all the positivity and progress that we expect of upstanding people in our society. Considering her many obstacles, she has persevered and dedicated herself to personal growth. Cyntoia should be proud of herself, and people of good conscience should be proud as well.
I would also like to thank all the supporters of this great noble effort to bring justice for this young woman. No matter whether you marched, wrote to the governor, posted on social media, informed your neighbors, or prayed for this young woman, it took all of our combined energies.