In one of his last acts as Tennessee governor, Bill Haslam on Monday granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Brown, commuting her life sentence for murder.
Brown, a victim of child sex trafficking, was sentenced to life for the killing of 43-year-old Johnny Allen in 2004. She was 16 at the time and living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a pimp known as “Kut Throat” who forced her into prostitution and raped her. Allen solicited her for sex, and she shot him dead at his home, saying she thought he was reaching for his gun to kill her, according to court documents.
“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16,” Haslam said in a statement on Monday, according to the Tennessean. “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 was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder, among other charges. She was sentenced to life in 2006.
In December, Tennessee’s Supreme Court ruled that Brown must remain in prison for at least 51 years before she was eligible for release. A lawsuit was filed on her behalf arguing that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional. The court rejected that contention, leading the Women’s March to announce nationwide protests for Brown and other sex-trafficking victims on Jan. 19.
Celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna, publicly joined those supporting Brown after PBS produced a documentary, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story” in 2011.
Under the conditions for her release, Brown will be required to undergo regular counseling, work at least 50 hours of community service, and get a job.
In a statement through her lawyers obtained by the Tennessean, Brown thanked Haslam “for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”