The story of Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim who was imprisoned at the age of 16 for killing a child predator who paid her for sex, has resurfaced.
READ: Teenager Accused Of Killing Father, Family Says Girl Is ‘Hero Who Saved Them All’
The incident originally took place back in 2004 when Brown was picked up by Nashville, Tennessee, real estate agent Johnny Mitchell Allen. As the Associated Press reports:
He drove her back to his house where his strange behavior frightened her and made her want to escape. When she couldn’t sneak away, she said she wanted to nap. He lay down with her but didn’t fall asleep. He kept getting up and standing over her. She became more panicked, convinced something was going to happen to her. Finally, she shrugged off his advances and, as he rolled over, she took a gun from her purse and shot him once in the head.
Brown admitted that she shot and killed Allen but did so because she feared he would kill her. However, prosecutors argued that Brown robbed Allen after she killed him, with his pants, wallet, and some guns in her possession when apprehended. Ultimately, she was sentenced to life in prison, only eligible for parole after serving 51 years.
Brown’s story resurfaced recently because of social media, with everyone from Rihanna to Kim Kardashian sharing the now-29-year-old Brown’s story.
The image stems from a 2011 documentary on Brown’s case by Daniel Birman. The documentary details how Brown came from a family with a long history of sexual and physical abuse toward women, and how he she was forced into prostitution by a man she was living with named Kutthroat.
“We started the conversation, this is a young girl who’s at the tail end of three generations of violence against women,” Birman said to Nashville news station Fox 17. “She had no chance.”
However, the documentary led to Tennessee law changing, where anyone 18 and younger can’t be charged with prostitution. Unfortunately, the law did not pertain to Brown, considering the change came about after her imprisonment.
Tennessee residents have rallied for Brown’s freedom, launching a clemency petition that is close to getting the 125,000 signatures necessary to get it delivered to Donald Trump. Until then, Brown remains in jail. She received an Associates Degree from Lipscomb University and is now working on her Bachelors Degree while working side by side with the courts and the Juvenile Justice system as an unpaid consultant.
Since the resurfacing of Brown’s case so much has happened, which we’ve provided below in a timeline.
Kim Kardashian-West calls on her legal team to help free Brown.
“Kim asked me several weeks ago how she could help Alice Johnson in her fight for justice. We then began corresponding with Alice and her team of lawyers,” Shawn Holley, Kardashian’s lawyer, previously said. “Since then, Kim has championed the cause of Cyntoia Brown and asked me to help her get involved in that effort as well.”
Tenessee Gov. Bill Haslam begins looking into Brown’s case but says a decision to grant her clemency is unlikely to come until 2018.
“I would be really surprised by the end of the year,” Haslam Previously said. “I think we’re just starting to gather the information.”
Brown’s lawyers file an appeal in federal court challenging her sentence. They asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to weigh the constitutionality of her life sentence and to consider whether Brown is actually innocent because she lacked the sufficient mental capacity for a murder conviction at the time of the crime. The mental capacity defense came as a result from an expert who testified in Brown’s sentencing hearing and noted that the 29-year-old may have suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome disorder in utero, affecting her mental ability.
Tennessee rejects Brown’s appeal and issues the following statement:
“A legal response filed Wednesday in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says a state court’s rejection of Cyntoia Brown’s appeal didn’t contradict U.S. Supreme Court precedent about cruel and unusual punishment.”
Brown gets a federal court date to appeal her life sentence. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals schedules a June 14 court date for Brown’s case in front of a three-judge panel in Cincinnati. Brown’s attorneys hope to challenge her life sentence without parole, arguing that she feared for her life when she killed a man who solicited her for sex as a teen. During this month Brown also has a clemency hearing with the Tennessee Prison Parole Board.
The board ends up divided on its decision: two members were for letting Brown out; two other members were recommending to keep her in jail and two members wanted her conviction to second-degree murder with a 25 year sentence and eligibility for parole after 25 years.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals holds a hearing on whether Brown’s life sentence is constitutional. During the hearing, Brown’s lawyers say that Tennessee’s laws “are completely ambiguous” on parole eligibility and that her sentence is “unconstitutionally excessive.” Some judges, such as Julia Smith Gibbons, couldn’t believe that a Tenessee court hadn’t issued a definitive ruling on the approriate reading of the sentencing law, according to KIII TV. Ultimately, the judges agree that Tennessee sentencing laws were confusing and suggest that they’ll seek clarificaiton from the Tennesse Supreme Court before moving forward.
Haslam grants clemency to four people but Brown isn’t one of them.
“This is not an exhaustive list. We have others that are in the process. As we work our way through it though, these were the first four that came up that we felt like met the standards of criteria we had set,” Haslam said.
Among those four released is Michelle Lea Martin, whose story is somewhat similar to Brown’s. In 2004, Martin was charged with second-degree murder in the death of her father. Martin’s father sexually abused her as a child as well as abused her mother. Martin shot and killed her father after a confrontation about his abuse of her mother occurred.
Following the shooting, she, her mother, and her mother;s boyfriend took her father’s body and concealed it in a barrel of cement. Haslam acknowledged Martin’s status as a model prisoner and pointed to her earning a degree from Lipscomb University while behind bars. Her 25-year sentence was commuted to supervised parole.
The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously agrees that Brown must serve 51 years in prison before she’s eligible for release. The court explained in a statement that “under state law, a life sentence is a determinate sentence of 60 years. However, the sixty-year sentence can be reduced by up to 15 percent, or 9 years, by earning various sentence credits.”
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