Trafficking Victim Serving Life Sentence for Murder Will Get Clemency Hearing
Posted May 3, 2018 4:58 p.m. EDT
Cyntoia Brown, a Nashville, Tennessee, woman who is serving a life sentence for killing a man who picked her up for sex while she was being trafficked as a teenager, will receive a hearing that could lead to her release, officials said Thursday.
The clemency hearing, set for May 23, will be the first for Brown, 30, since she was sentenced nearly 13 years ago, said Melissa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the state Board of Probation and Parole.
The board, appointed by the governor, will hear Brown’s petition and decide whether to recommend that she be released from the Tennessee Prison for Women, where she is serving a life sentence for fatally shooting Johnny Allen, 43, in 2004. “It is up to the governor to decide the process after we make our recommendation,” McDonald said. “The governor may act on it or choose not to act.”
When she was 16, Brown, who had run away from her adopted family, lived in a motel with a pimp known as “Kut Throat” who raped and abused her while forcing her to become a prostitute, Charles Bone, her lawyer, said last year. He could not be reached Thursday.
Allen picked her up and drove her to his home, where Brown shot him. She said she saw him reaching under his bed and thought he was getting a gun, according to court documents. She took money and two guns and fled.
Brown was tried as an adult in 2006. A jury rejected her claim of self-defense, finding her guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. Her case has attracted the public support of celebrities including Rihanna, LeBron James, Snoop Dogg and Kim Kardashian West.
The announcement of the clemency hearing was first reported by The Tennessean. It comes two days after an appeals court agreed to hear oral arguments in the case on June 14.
Brown’s supporters have described her as a model inmate. While in prison, she took classes from Lipscomb University, a private Christian college in Nashville, and earned an associate degree.
But Jeff Burks, who prosecuted Brown and is now an assistant district attorney in Madison, Georgia, has contended that she shouldn’t be considered a victim of trafficking, and that she tried to recruit someone to return to Allen’s apartment after killing him to steal from it.
“What should the law be as to a 16-year-old who does this? I don’t weigh in on that,” he said. “But the facts of the case, I have a strong position on.”
State Rep. Jeremy Faison, a Republican from Nashville who has been pushing for Brown’s release, said Thursday it would have been more difficult for her to be tried as an adult under the trafficking laws and laws governing juvenile offenders that are now in place in Tennessee.
Faison, who introduced a failed bill in 2016 that would have required reviews of life sentences for juveniles after they serve 15 years in prison, said he regularly speaks with Brown.
“Did she kill the guy? Absolutely. Did we have proof of why she killed him? No, we don’t,” he said. “She was the victim of a man who picked her up when she was 16.”
Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, a Republican, is in his final year in office. He has not yet granted any clemency petitions, The Tennessean reported.
“The governor thoughtfully reviews any clemency application and recommendation from the Board of Parole,” said Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for Haslam.
Faison said he has also asked the governor to consider a pardon.
“I would like to tell you that I think the odds are good,” he said. But “it is hard to get government to admit they are wrong.”