Cyntoia Brown: a 31-year-old woman just granted clemency sparks discussions nationwide

Cyntoia Brown, a 31-year old woman convicted of murdering a man and thrown in jail when she was 16, has recently been granted clemency after 15 years of her initial 51-year jail time. She will be released in August 2019. This case has drawn the attention of Tennessee lawmakers, as well as some celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna.
Brown, now a 31-year-old woman, was sold for sex when she was 16 years old. In August of 2004, she killed Johnny Mitchell Allen, who had paid for sex with her. She had shot him in the head, stolen his money and truck.
“The reason she was prosecuted so heavily was because the opposing counsel convinced everyone that the reason she had killed him was not for self-defense and was actually for robbery, because afterwards she took stuff from his house,” said junior Payton Selby.
However, Brown and her defense attorney both claimed Allen was reaching for a gun and was going to kill her. She then pulled her gun out from her handbag and shot him. They mentioned that she only stole money to give to her pimp “Cut-Throat,” because she was scared of what would happen if she returned with none.
Brown was tried as an adult, ultimately being convicted of murder and robbery. Her sentence was life in prison. Although 15 years have passed since she was tried, the case continues to spark heated discussions nationwide. Celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West added fuel to the fire through their Twitter platforms, further sparking nationwide outrage. The case is difficult because Cyntoia isn’t innocent either, which further complicates the situation.
In the years following Brown’s conviction, laws about convicting juveniles have been changed.
“If Cyntoia Brown were tried today, legal experts say she would not have been tried in the same way,” said CNN anchor Stacy Case. “She would be viewed as a victim.”
“She seems to have admitted to committing a definitive crime – a murder, basically,” history teacher John Monahan said. “And I say seems because we tend to conceptualize murder as murder, regardless of the circumstances around it. […] We’re living in a time of momentum behind ideas of criminal justice reforms.”
Brown’s trial was later made into a documentary called “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story” that helped alter Tennessee’s laws about dealing with sex trafficking victims. In the documentary, Brown described being forced into prostitution and raped repeatedly.
According to a CNN article, Brown has spent 15 years in prison, but she has actively worked to better herself during the time spent behind bars. She received her associate’s degree from Lipscomb University in 2015 and has been working towards achieving her bachelor’s degree. She has also been planning a nonprofit to help young girls at risk of being sex-trafficked and has been a prisoner with perfect behavior.
“I learned that my life was – and is – not over,” said Brown in the documentary.
This was part of the reason the Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam considered granting her clemency.
“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Halsam said. “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.”
Brown’s release has also ignited discussion about prostitution and other criminal justice laws that exist in today’s society.
“It also highlights the issues of sentencing a young girl to an adult prison, and also calls into question self-defense, and what is needed there,” said Selby.
Another movement that has been strongly influenced by this case is the #MeToo movement. People actively fighting against sexual harassment and sexual assault have used this case to bolster their argument and call for action.
“[Brown] experienced a lot of sexual abuse while she was under this man’s power,” senior Mackenzi Stewart said. “It’s just the idea that a lot of women’s voices are silenced when they’re speaking out about their sexual abuse or when they’re trying to defend themselves against their abuser.”
Women who have been sex trafficked continue to be arrested for crimes committed in self-defense. The word “prostitute” was also incorrectly used to describe Brown throughout her trial, instead of addressing her as a victim of sex trafficking. Although she agreed to the sex, she was not legally able to consent due to her legal status as a minor. But since the prosecution argued that she wasn’t a victim, they were able to convince the jury that Brown was guilty.
Brown’s case was not the only case of minors being arrested for prostitution. Last year alone, 280 children were arrested for prostitution, and 38,306 adult women arrested for prostitution. Many may have been victims of sex trafficking.
At Karana Raising, a nonprofit organization led by survivors of sex trafficking, serves survivors of sex trafficking. Fifty percent of survivors were arrested before being declared victims. Nicole, a worker at Karana Raising and a survivor, said, “Setting Cyntoia Brown free is like setting us all free.”