Tennessee’s Cyntoia Brown Granted Clemency

Cyntoia Brown, who says she was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim when she killed a man in 2004, was granted clemency by Tennessee’s governor on Monday, January 7th, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. She will be released on August 7th, 15 years after she was first arrested, and is to remain on parole for 10 years.

Brown ran away from her adoptive family in 2004 to live with a man known as “Cut Throat” in a hotel. Court documents record that he forced her to become a prostitute and verbally, physically, and sexually abused her.

Brown was convicted in 2006 to a life-sentence for killing and robbing Johnny Allen, a Nashville real estate agent, after he picked her up from a Sonic Drive-In to have sex with her. Brown’s lawyers pleaded that “she was a sex trafficking victim who not only feared for her life but also lacked the mental capability to be culpable in the slaying because she was impaired by her mother’s alcohol abuse while she was in the womb.” She agreed to engage in sexual activity with Allen for $150. After getting in his bed, she shot him in the back when she claims he looked like he was reaching for a gun.

While serving her life sentence in the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Brown completed her GED and is currently one course away from earning a bachelor’s degree from Lipscomb University. In May 2018, the state board of parole gave Governor Bill Haslam a split recommendation on Brown’s application for clemency, thus giving the governor freedom to handle the case however he saw fit. Haslam received very conflicting opinions on the ruling. Law enforcement officers opposed clemency, arguing that she was not justified in the killing, while celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna along with criminal justice advocates pushed for mercy.

In a statement following his decision, Haslam said it came down to doing “the right thing.”

“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,” Haslam said, according to the Times.

The Times wrote that Nashville’s Mayor David Briley praised Haslam’s decision and saw it as a “great day for social justice and our city.” Also, the Times recorded that Democratic state Senator Raumesh Akbari said that this clemency announcement shows that Tennessee “can show love, compassion and mercy” for people who have experienced trauma such as Brown.

Christian Murray (’19), the leader of the club S.S.T.O.P. (Students Stopping the Trafficking of People) at Covenant College, hopes that with the publicity of this case, more people will be aware of human trafficking.

“This will serve a more important purpose,” Murray said. “Hopefully it will lead to more sentencing reform and clemency.”

Murray hopes to have the next S.S.T.O.P. meeting in February. Some plans for the club this semester include prayer meetings, continuing to raise awareness, and documentary viewings. Alex Gonzalez (’21) and Murray have actively been involved in combating sex-trafficking in places such as Rosswell, GA and New York and are willing to share more about what they have learned and seen. Most of their work centers around international trafficking, particularly involving women from Asian countries.

“Honestly I would love to get people here at Covenant involved with reaching out to these women.” Murray said. “But, I am so hesitant to do this though because these sex trafficking rings are backed by criminals and you never know what is going to happen.”

If you are interested in learning more about Human Trafficking or want to get involved with S.S.T.O.P., contact christian.murray@covenant.edu to be put on the email list and receive updates.