This week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, a woman who spent the last fifteen years in prison for a murder she has consistently maintained was an act of self-defense. Brown will not be released until August 7th of this year and will remain on supervised parole for ten years.
She was expected to serve her entire life in prison.
Brown, who was kidnapped by sex traffickers and forced into involuntary prostitution, was 16-years-old at the time of the shooting. According to Brown, she was physically threatened by a 43-year-old real estate agent named Jimmy Allen during a sexual encounter. While Brown claims she shot the man in self-defense, prosecutors insist she shot Allen with the intent of robbing him and that her life was never in danger.
Brown is remorseful of her actions that night, but maintains she acted in self-defense and that Allen was reaching for his gun.
“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,” Haslam said.
While in prison, Brown earned her associates degree with a GPA of 4.0. She is expected to earn her bachelor’s degree in May.
In a statement read after the clemency decision, Brown said:
“Thank you, Gov. Haslam for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.I am thankful for all the support, prayers and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings.
The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without Him. Let today be a testament to His saving grace… 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’s case was largely unknown for the bulk of her time spent in prison, but a recent wave of celebrity attention brought national awareness to the issue. If it were not for that attention, her case would likely have continued to fly under the radar, with Brown potentially spending the rest of her life in prison.
This was one of Bill Haslam’s final acts as Tennessee governor.