Cyntoia Brown was just 16 years old and a victim of child sex trafficking when she was charged in 2004 with killing a 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent who solicited sex from her. Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Brown must serve at least 51 years in prison before she’s eligible for release.
The court ruled defendants like Brown, who are convicted of first-degree murder committed after July 1, 1995 and sentenced to life imprisonment, can’t become eligible for release from prison before serving more than five decades, according to Pix 11 News.
Brown said she killed Johnny Mitchell Allen, also known as “Kut Throat” after she feared he would kill her. Allen allegedly drove Brown to his house in his pickup truck. There, Brown saw a gun cabinet in Allen’s room, she said during her trial. Brown said she became convinced he was going to kill her after he appeared to reach under the bed. Fearing for her life, she shot him in the back of the head, in bed, with a .40-caliber gun.
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, the court’s five justices ruled that despite Brown’s age, her sentence was constitutional. Thursday’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit in which Brown argued her sentence was unconstitutional, citing a 2012 opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court that said mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders violate the US Constitution.
In 2011, the PBS documentary, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story details the atrocities that Brown suffered. Allen, said to be her pimp, allegedly forced her into prostitution and she was regularly raped, choked, beaten and drugged, according to an earlier article in The Grio.
In its ruling, the Tennessee Supreme 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.”
According to the Tennessee code, those credits include recognition for good behavior or participation in educational or vocational training programs.
A district court had earlier denied Brown’s motion, stating that she hadn’t been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole — rather a life sentence.
The case is pending judgment by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to share its opinion.
During a clemency hearing in May, the Tennessee Board of Parole was split on its recommendation to Gov. Bill Haslam. Two of the six members voted to grant clemency, two to deny it, and two to make her eligible for parole after 25 years.
Prosecutors at that hearing said Brown killed Allen to rob him, not to defend herself.
After the initial sentencing, Brown’s case drew attention from celebrities like Rihanna, Gabrielle Union and Kim Kardashian West who began advocating for mercy. Her story spread on social media using the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown.
Source: Entertainment – The Grio