On Monday morning Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted executive clemency to 30-year-old Cyntoia Brown—a survivor of child sex trafficking who was convicted in 2004 of first degree murder after killing a 43-year-old man who had purchased her for sex. Brown, who at 16-years-old was sentenced to life in prison, is now scheduled to be released on August 7, 2019.
Through emails, letters, and phone calls to Governor Haslam, advocates encouraged him to grant clemency to Brown. After “careful consideration,” Haslam felt compelled to grant Brown clemency because he believed “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.” Brown released a statement to thank Haslam, saying “I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me,” and she made the commitment 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.”
After being sentenced to life in prison in 2004 at age 16, Brown filed a lawsuit to petition for a re-sentencing following a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided a juvenile serving life without parole is unconstitutional, as it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. But in December, the Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously rejected Brown’s plea. In Tennessee, a life-sentence is considered 60 years in prison. Because Brown had gotten her sentence reduced by 9 years due to exemplary behavior while incarcerated, the court found that Brown’s now 51 year sentence was not considered “life in prison” and therefore did not violate the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
As a Black woman with intersecting identities, Brown’s case spread nationwide and sparked outrage among advocates for women’s rights and Black Lives Matter. The hashtag “#FreeCyntoiaBrown” was used to share Brown’s story and support from celebrities brought an increased following for Brown.
Cyntoia Brown was sex-trafficked at the age of 16 to Johnny Mitchell Allan, a 43-year-old Nashville realtor who abuse her. In 2004, Brown was tried as an adult after she shot and killed Allan. At trial, Brown said that she killed Allan because she feared he was going to kill her. Further, Brown said that Allan always pointed a gun at her during her captivity, and hit, choked, and dragged her. A jury sentenced her to life in prison.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that Black women and girls, across all age groups, are incarcerated at a rate of 2.8 to 4.3 times more than white women and girls. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that of the 11,800 runaways reported in 2015, 1 in 5 were victims of sex trafficking. According to the Polaris Project, as of 2015, only 34 states had laws that provide immunity to children who engage in “prostitution.”
Media Resources: CNN 12/7/18; The Tennessean 12/10/18; TruthOut 1/29/16; WSMV 1/8/19; Department of Justice 06/07