Chicago (AFP) – A US trafficking victim serving a life sentence for killing a man who bought her for sex when she was a teenager was granted clemency Monday following a celebrity-backed viral campaign for her freedom.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said Cyntoia Brown, now 30, had been given “too harsh” a sentence for the 2004 murder of a real estate agent in the city of Nashville.
Johnny Allen had picked up Brown, who was 16 at the time and a runaway under the influence of a dangerous pimp, and taken her to his home for sex.
The ex-Army sharpshooter allegedly showed off his firearms and “grabbed” Brown forcefully between her legs. She said she shot him in fear for her life.
A jury convicted Brown of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery, and she was given life with the possibility of parole after serving at least 51 years in prison.
Calling the case “tragic and complex,” Haslam granted clemency under the condition of a 10-year parole. Brown will be released on August 7 after undergoing training on returning to society.
“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.”
Without the governor’s intervention, Brown would have remained in prison at least until 2055.
In a statement published by The Tennessean, Brown thanked her supporters and the governor and promised to “do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”
Brown’s case was featured in a 2011 documentary, and was the subject of a social media campaign involving multiple celebrities who advocated for clemency, saying she should have been treated as a traumatized child victim of sex trafficking.
“It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life,” reality star Kim Kardashian wrote on Twitter in 2017.
Last month, actress Ashley Judd implored her home state’s governor to grant clemency by saying Brown “deserves our empathy and your mercy.”