Cyntoia Brown, a Tennessee woman who was convicted as a teenager for killing a man while she said she was a sex trafficking victim, was granted clemency, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday.
Brown was granted a full commutation to parole. She will be eligible for release Aug. 7 after serving 15 years in prison and will remain on parole for 10 years.
Haslam said the decision comes after careful consideration of “what is a tragic and complex case.”
“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16,” Haslam said in a statement. “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.”
Brown thanked the governor and her supporters in a statement released Monday by her attorneys.
“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance,” Brown said. “I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”
Brown said she is grateful for the support, prayers, and encouragement she has received, including from Tennessee Department of Corrections officials.
Her case became a national rallying point for criminal justice reform and awareness about the toll of human trafficking. Several dozen supporters of Brown attended a rally Saturday in Nashville, pleading for her clemency from Haslam, who leaves office Jan. 19.
Brown, now 30, was tried as an adult in 2006 and imprisoned in Tennessee following her trial and life sentence for the death of Johnny Mitchell Allen, who paid Brown for sex. She was also convicted of aggravated robbery.
Brown said she feared for her life and shot Allen, 43, while in bed with him because she believed he was reaching for a gun. Prosecutors argued the motive was robbery. Brown’s supporters and lawyer have argued her sentence was too extreme, given her age and circumstances. At the time, Brown had run away from home and was living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a pimp known as “Kut Throat,” who Brown said raped her and forced her into prostitution, according to court documents.
Last month, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Brown must serve51 years in jail before she is eligible for release. The ruling sparked outrage online among Brown’s supporters, including many celebrities who have called for her release.
More than half a million people have signed petitions for Brown’s freedom online and a slew of celebrities including LeBron James, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, Meek Mill and Amy Schumer, have rallied for her release on social media with the hashtag #freecyntoiabrown. Rihanna was among the first celebrities to weigh in on Brown’s case in a November 2017 Instagram post that helped highlight the need for criminal justice reform.
Her case inspired a 2011 documentary titled “Me Facing Life: The Cyntoia Brown Story,” that thrust her into the spotlight.
While in prison, Brown has earned a GED and an associate degree in 2015 through the Lipscomb Initiative for Education Program with a 4.0 GPA, Haslam said. Brown said she is scheduled to earn her bachelor’s degree in May.
Brown said Monday she is committed to live the rest of her life helping others, especially young people.
“My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been,” she said.