Update: Cyntoia Brown was released from a Tennessee prison today after serving 15 years. Gov. Bill Haslam, who commuted her life sentence, told NBC News, “Cyntoia really had done what we hope happens when people are incarcerated. In the end, we decided the right thing and that society was better off with Cyntoia out of prison.”
This story was originally published on 1 August 2019.
Cyntoia Brown is set to walk free next Wednesday, exactly eight months after former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam commuted her sentence. Brown, now 31, had been serving a life sentence for the murder of a 43-year-old man who solicited sex from her when she was 16 years old. Her case gained national attention after the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled last December that she would have to serve 51 years in prison before being eligible for parole.
As part of the terms of her commuted sentence, Brown will have to report to a parole officer regularly for the next decade. She is also required to stay employed, participate in counseling, and perform community service with at-risk youth.
The prosecution of minors has changed significantly in Tennessee and across the U.S. since Brown’s first trial in 2006. Back then, she was charged as an adult in the 2004 murder of real estate agent Johnny Allen. Allen purchased her for $150 (£123) in exchange for sex. At the time, Brown was only 16 and living with a 24-year-old pimp known as "Cut Throat." She has said her relationship with Cut Throat was sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive, and eventually, he forced her into prostitution.
Brown has since then said she shot Allen in self-defense. She was not allowed to testify at her original trial, which meant that evidence of her traumatic childhood history, such as her time under the care of the state Department of Children's Services, and her severe neurodevelopmental disorder wasn't presented. The then-teenager was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences.
Over her 15 years in prison, Brown received her associate's degree and has mentored other female inmates. Now, she'll have a second chance at life.
"With God's help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people," Brown said in a statement shortly after her sentence was commuted. "My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been."