Tennessee Governor Mulls Clemency for Teenage Sex Trafficking Victim Serving Life in Prison for Murder

December 13, 2018 Updated: December 13, 2018
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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called Cyntoia Brown’s life sentence “unjust” and said his office is looking into clemency for the former teenage sex trafficking victim serving life in prison for murder.

“We’re reviewing a lot of cases, and while Cyntoia’s case has gotten a lot of publicity, I don’t think you want us to treat her’s any different than a whole lot of cases that I think people want us to review,” Haslam said at an event at the Nashville Public Library on Dec. 10, according to Rolling Stone.

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled last week that defendants like Brown must serve at least 51 years behind bars after being convicted of certain types of crime committed after July 1, 1995, including felony murder, and first-degree murder.

Brown, now 30, was jailed when she was just 16. She was convicted of killing a Nashville man, Johnny Allen, who hired her for sex.

She shot him with a gun she had in her purse and then stole two of his guns and his wallet before driving his pickup truck to a Walmart parking lot, Newsweek reported. She was later arrested.

Her defense team argued Brown shot Allen out of fear that he would kill her. They claimed Allen reached for his gun, at which point the teenage girl fatally shot him.

Prosecutors said she killed the man to rob him, not out of self-defense.

She was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison.

Parole Board Split on Clemency

Brown was granted a clemency hearing earlier this year before the six-member Tennessee Board of Parole, with two voting to make her eligible for parole after 25 years, two to grant clemency, and two to deny it.

All five judges at the Tennessee Supreme Court were unanimous in their Dec. 6 ruling that Brown will be eligible for parole only after serving 51 years behind bars.

Haslam could use his powers of executive clemency to pardon Brown, which is a formal statement of forgiveness but does not clear her record.

He could also choose to commute her sentence.

Haslam Grilled at Nashville Event

During the question-and-answer part of Monday’s event, Haslam was asked about Brown’s plight.

“As a victim of sex trafficking and assault, this is an unjust sentence in the first place,” said Justin Lang, an attendee, according to Rolling Stone.

“Under Tennessee law, all minors engaged in sex work are legally considered victims of sex trafficking. She has not been treated as a victim of trafficking and not given the justice she deserves,” Lang said.

Lang argued the Supreme Court’s decision that Brown must serve 51 years before being considered for parole was a human rights issue.

“And so I ask you, what really, functionally, is the difference between life without parole—which is no longer constitutional as the United States Supreme Court declared for minors, for any crime—and ‘You might get parole after 51 years,’ for a victim of sex trafficking?”

Haslam responded by saying that his office had been talking to people involved in Brown’s case and revealed he was considering granting clemency.

Some audience members reportedly responded with chants “What do we want? Clemency! When do we want it? Now!”

Brown’s cause has also been taken up by celebrities the likes of Kim Kardashian and Rihanna.

Leaders of the Women’s March also called on Haslam to grant a pardon.

“Gov. Haslam has the power to #FreeCyntoia,” the organization tweeted. “Every day she remains in prison, he is actively choosing not to.”

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