Why It’s Hard To Talk About Cyntoia Brown’s Case Without Talking About Kim Kardashian West

Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock.
While you have probably read about Cyntoia Brown's case, there's so much more that has yet to reach the surface. Which is where Netflix documentary Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story comes in. Premiering April 29, the documentary aims to give viewers a behind-the-scenes and comprehensive look into Cyntoia Brown's life and her experience in the incarceration system.
The story of Cyntoia Brown (who now goes by Cyntoia Brown Long) had been originally picked up in 2017 by the mainstream media, partly thanks to the #MeToo movement which (and please know this is an oversimplification) pushed society to recalibrate how women should be treated. Brown Long, who was a victim of sexual predators and abuse, had been sentenced to life in prison for a crime she argued she was pushed to commit. She had been appealing for clemency for years, and when celebs like Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna caught wind, they also began advocating for her freedom. 
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Kardashian West especially took interest in Brown Long’s case and publicly championed for the young woman’s release. But in case you missed this when it all first hit the news cycle, here's how Kardashian West got involved and how she impacted Brown Long's story.
It first helps to know the basics of the Cyntoia Brown case: Back in 2006, Brown Long was convicted of murdering a 43-year-old real estate agent, Johnny Allen, who had solicited her for prostitution and sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. Brown Long was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim. She was pimped out by Kutthroat, a man who had physically and emotionally abused her. The incident happened in 2004: Brown Long was in Allen’s home and shot and killed him because she thought he was going to kill her. During the trial, prosecutors claimed that Brown Long had planned to rob and murder Allen. Even though she was 16 when she killed Allen in self defense, she was tried as an adult and was sentenced to 51 years prison before being eligible for parole.
It was 11 years after she was convicted that Kardashian West learned about Brown Long's case and began advocating for justice. She tweeted, “The system has failed. It’s heart breaking [sic] to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this.”
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In March 2018, the Tennessee Board of Parole announced that it would hold a hearing for Brown Long’s clemency petition. However, at that time, the parole board was split on their decision: Two voted for Brown Long to get clemency, two voted that her sentence should be reduced to 25 years, and two voted completely against clemency. Meanwhile, phone calls and letters kept pouring in, urging leaders within the Tennessee legal system to do the right thing.
But it became clear that Kardashian West's voice, along with those of other celebrities like Rihanna, did make a difference by putting more national attention, and thus pressure, on the case.
With so much public attention on the state, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam admitted that the sentence for Brown Long was indeed too "harsh," given the circumstances of what happened and Brown Long’s background. Gov. Haslam explained that his decision came “after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” adding, “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.”
In January, 2019, Gov. Haslam granted Brown Long clemency; she was 30 years old at the time. An official statement reads, “Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Denise Brown by commuting her sentence of life imprisonment. She will be released to parole supervision on August 8, 2019, after serving 15 years in prison.” 
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While Kardashian West wasn’t the only one who used her platform to help Brown Long, and cannot be credited alone for her release, it's hard to deny the power of her platform. As polarizing as she may be, Kardashian West is able to reach millions of people and has the financial resources to help those like Brown Long.
Brown Long, who actually wasn’t involved in the making of Murder to Mercy, wrote a memoir titled Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System detailing her 15 years in prison. It was published October 15, 2019. Many question the ethics behind the Netflix documentary, since director Daniel Birman created it without her consent while she was still in prison. Brown Long recently responded to the documentary, stating, “My husband and I were as surprised as everyone else when we first heard the news because we did not participate in any way.”
Regardless of whether or not you watch Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story, we hope that it at least continues to spark the ongoing conversation about necessary reform within the justice system. Brown Long is just one victim of its failings. And there are plenty of other deserving cases like hers that never receive the benefit of celebrity attention.

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