Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in one of his last acts granted clemency to 30-year-old man Cyntoia Brown, who has spent the past 14 years behind bars for shooting and killing a man. Brown, who was tried as an adult when she was 16, said she was forced into prostitution and feared for her life when she killed Johnny Allen, 43, in August. 2004.
According to Tennessee, Haslam’s switching means Brown could be released as early as August 7 in time. After that, Brown will remain on parole for the next 10 years.
If Haslam had not commuted his sentence, Brown would not have been eligible for parole until he was 69.
In his statement, Governor Haslam wrote that Brown had “shown extraordinary growth and rehabilitation.”
“Cyntoia Brown, by her own admission, committed a horrific crime at the age of 16,” Haslam said. “Yet imposing a life sentence on a minor that would require them to serve at least 51 years before they are even eligible for parole is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps taken by Ms. Brown to rebuild her life. . ”
While in prison, Brown both completed his GED and earned his associate degree from Lipscomb University.
But it was the circumstances of Brown’s conviction that prompted many advocates and supporters of social justice to ask Haslam to commute his sentence. Brown told authorities she was trapped in sex work and was a victim of child sex trafficking when she killed Allen, who had picked up then 16-year-old Brown from a Sonic Drive -In. She shot Allen while the two were in bed together; Brown claimed self-defense, while prosecutors argued Brown was trying to rob the real estate agent, WKRN Reports.
As word of her case spread, in part thanks to social media campaigns and encouragement from celebrities like Rihanna and Gabrielle Union, many pointed out that Brown herself was a victim and deserved state protection.
Her harsh sentence, especially in light of her own vulnerability, was a stark reminder to many of how disproportionately black women and girls are punished by the criminal justice system.
In his statement, Haslam set out the conditions for Brown’s release. She will need to find a job, attend regular counseling sessions and complete at least 50 hours of community service, which would include working with at-risk youth, writes the Tennessean.
Brown is currently working towards earning her bachelor’s degree, and her relatives say she is considering starting her own nonprofit to advocate for social justice issues.