Seven months after being granted clemency and exactly 15 years after her conviction, Cyntoia Brown was released from prison early Wednesday morning.
Brown, a runaway from her adoptive Nashville family, was convicted of killing real estate agent Johnny Allen in 2006. Brown had been taken in by a 24-year-old pimp who called himself “Cut Throat,” who abused, raped, and forced the then 16-year-old girl into prostitution.
Allen picked Brown up from a local restaurant, taking her to a hotel for sex. Authorities say Brown killed Allen with a close-range shot to the back of the head, using a gun she had acquired in order to rob him.
Despite a Supreme Court ruling against life sentences for children, the prosecution successfully argued the sentence was acceptable because she would be eligible for parole 51 years later. Memphis Area Women’s Council Executive Director Deborah Clubb called Brown’s sentencing “outrageous” and “extreme,” saying:
She was entrapped as a young girl in a violent sexual relationship that became criminal that became further violent by her own efforts to free herself from a situation she did not consent to.
It’s important for standing as a way that all women caught in this, all of us trying to help women who are caught in these criminal justice traps, can realize that there can be justice.
It’s a warning, too, that we do all consider the background of these situations that we recognize that neglect and abuse can be what is pushing girls into these criminal settings.
It is not by their choice. They are not even grown up enough to have a brain to make those kind of choices and yet they can be brought into the criminal justice system and just get on that treadmill of incarceration and more violence.
In prison, Brown earned her GED, then furthered her education through Lipscomb University. Brown’s case was brought to the attention of celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West, who lobbied for her released. Former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam finally agreed to commute the remainder of her sentence in January.
Now 31, Brown will remain under parole supervision for the next 10 years, according to Haslam’s commutation. During that time she must participate in regular counseling sessions, hold a job or be enrolled in further education, and not break any state or federal laws. She must also “maintain a regular commitment to community service.”
In a written statement released Monday, Brown expressed gratitude and a commitment to the future. “I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me,” she said, “and with the Lord’s help I will make them as well as the rest of my supporters proud.”
Nonprofit documentary film group Odyssey Impact and Daniel H. Birman Productions Inc. have announced that a documentary about Brown will be released this year and expects to have a book telling her story published in October.