Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s outgoing governor, has granted Cyntoia Brown full clemency.
In 2004, Brown was a 16-year-old living with a man named Garion McGlothen. McGlothen raped and abused Brown; he also forced her into prostitution. It was during this time that she met and then killed Johnny Allen, a man who had raped her. Prosecutors ignored both Brown’s age and the lifetime of abuse she had endured, charging her as an adult and pursuing the maximum possible punishment for her having killed Allen. Prosecutors insisted that Brown had not feared Allen, as she had claimed, and was in fact in no danger. The jury went with the prosecutors, sentencing Brown to life in prison. A Supreme Court decision later clarified that sentencing juveniles to life in prison constituted cruel and unusual punishment, but after an appeal based upon that clarification, Tennessee’s Supreme Court confirmed that Brown would have to serve at least 51 years of her life sentence before she would be eligible for parole.
Brown was the focus of a documentary called Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story and subsequently became a cause for some celebrities, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian-West. Brown’s case then became a flashpoint in arguments about how the American justice system valued lives, with numerous critics observing that whereas the justice system often bends over backward to excuse away crimes committed by men, it offers no such leniency otherwise. This, then, serves as a step in the right direction.
Brown will be eligible for release on August 7, 2019.