NASHVILLE, TN (WMC) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Brown, commuting her life sentence after her case garnered national attention.
Brown is scheduled to walk free Aug. 7, 2019 after serving 15 years in prison for murder. She was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006 for killing 43-year-old Nashville realtor Johnny Allen two years earlier. She had to serve 51 years before being eligible for parole.
“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” said Haslam. “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, 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. Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”
Brown was convicted of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery. Her supporters say she was a 16-year-old victim of sex trafficking.
Lawmakers, activists and celebrities across the country called on Haslam to release Brown before he leaves office this month.
Employees and volunteers with the Tennessee Department of Corrections have spoken about her personal transformation while incarcerated and the Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation in favor of granting her a commutation.
While in prison, Brown earned her GED and completed an associate’s degree with a 4.0 GPA. She expects to complete her bachelor’s degree in 2019.
State. Rep. London Lamar, who was vocal in her support of Brown’s release, thanked Haslam for “doing the right thing.”
“Her story is tragic, but unfortunately, it’s the story of many girls across this state whose innocence and dignity has been stolen,” said Lamar. "We have to pass legislation that will reduce child sex trafficking and protect its victims. In the meantime, I am grateful that Cyntoia will get a second chance at life, elated for her and her family and want to let them know that I am here to help her in her transition.”
State Sen. Raumesh Akbari also released a statement of support Monday.
“Fifteen years ago, Cyntoia Brown found herself in a situation no teenage girl should ever have to face," said Akbari. "Governor Haslam’s commutation of Ms. Brown’s sentence demonstrates that we in the state of Tennessee can show love, compassion and mercy for someone who has experienced trauma that many of us cannot imagine. But today is not just a victory for Ms. Brown, it is a victory for all of us committed to the fight against sex trafficking and engaged in sincere juvenile justice reform.”
House Democratic Caucus Leader Karen Camper called Haslam’s announcement "a major victory for the many citizens, lawyers, activists, politicians and celebrities who have fought for justice in this case.
“While she may never be able to fully recover from the unimaginable hardships that she had to endure in life, her release later this year and the support that I’m sure that she will continue to receive can serve as an inspiration to her and others who have had to endure a similar fate,” said Camper. "It is my hope that we can build upon this in the legislature this year as we look at criminal justice reform and work to create a truly just system.”
State Sen. Brenda Gilmore thanked the governor and congratulated Brown on her second chance.
“I congratulate Cyntoia Brown for making the best out of her life after this tragedy," said Gilmore. "The State of Tennessee and countless adults let her down during her childhood. But, since her incarceration, Cyntoia has done all that she can do to improve and empower herself.”
Brown is required to complete a re-entry program before being released from custody in August. She’ll be required to meet certain conditions for parole, including employment and counseling.