Cyntoia Brown, a Tennessee woman serving a life sentence in prison for murder and robbery, was granted clemency on 7 January after high-profile campaigners brought her case to the public’s attention, sparking debate about life terms for children.
The case garnered widespread attention in the US, despite being over a decade old, and the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown trended on Twitter after celebrities including reality TV-star Kim Kardashian West, singer Rihanna and comedian Amy Schumer advocated for her release.
Brown – now 30 – was charged in 2006 when she pleaded guilty to murdering Johnny Allen, a Nashville real estate agent, in 2004 when she was aged just 16.
On the night she killed him, Allen picked up Brown outside a fast-food outlet, where he offered her $150 (£118) for sexual activity.
Once at his home, Brown eventually got into Allen’s bed. Brown told authorities she thought he was reaching for a gun, so she shot him with a handgun from her handbag and fled with his guns and money.
The prosecution argued that the murder was motivated by greed and not of self-defence, while the defence countered that she was a victim of sex trafficking who feared for her life and was afraid of coming back empty-handed to her pimp nicknamed “Cut Throat” with whom she was living at the time after running away from her adoptive family in 2004.
Even though she was a juvenile at the time of the trial, a juvenile court found her competent to be tried as an adult. She was given a 51-year life sentence, and placed in the Tennessee Prison for Women.
In an official statement on 7 January, Bill Haslam, the Tennessee Governor, said that the “decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case.
“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.”