UPDATE: A Tennessee state board of parole was split three ways during Cyntoia Brown’s clemency hearing on May 23, 2018. According to The Tennessean, the six-member panel was divided, with two voting for clemency and two voting against clemency, which would mean Brown could continue to serve a life sentence. Two other members recommended that Governor Bill Haslam reduce the sentence to 25 years, which would mean Brown could continue to serve another 11 years in prison. A seventh member was not present. The decision is now up to Governor Haslam as to whether he will accept or reject any of the board’s recommendations.
In 2004, when Cyntoia Brown was 16-years-old, she was arrested for killing a 43-year-old man who solicited her for prostitution, The New York Times reports. She was convicted as an adult and is serving a life sentence. Now, celebrities including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West and Cara Delevingne are rallying to support Brown’s release.
Brown has spent 13 years in prison and won’t be eligible for parole until she is 69-years-old. According to her lawyer Charles Bone via The New York Times, Brown is the victim of sex trafficking. When Brown was 16, she was forced into prostitution by a pimp, Bone said, adding that the pimp also raped and abused her. She was living in a motel with the pimp at the time.
On August 6, 2004, 43-year-old Johnny Allen solicited Brown and took her to his home. She told police that while they were in bed, Allen reached for something underneath the bed, Brown thought he was looking for a gun, so she took the handgun she had in her purse and shot him. She took money and two guns before leaving Allen’s home.
In 2006, Brown was tried as an adult and the jury rejected her plea of self defense. She was found guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. Brown is currently serving a life sentence in the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.
On Tuesday, Rihanna took to Instagram to bring attention to Brown’s plight. “Did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way??,” the pop star wrote. “‘Cause… Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child’s sentence I hope to God you don’t have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already!”
did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way?? cause….. Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child’s sentence I hope to God you don’t have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already! #FREECYNTOIABROWN #HowManyMore
Rihanna closed with the hashtag #FREECYNTOIABROWN, which went viral on social media. Kim Kardashian West also used the hashtag in her post advocating for Brown. “The system has failed,” she tweeted. “It’s heartbreaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back, she’s jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys to see what can be done to fix this.”
Delevingne called the justice system “backwards” and “completely insane” on Instagram.
In 2016, a bill was introduced in the Tennessee state legislature that would have required reviews of juveniles serving life sentences after they’ve served 15 years, but it was defeated.
Bone, who took up Brown’s case pro bono seven years ago, has argued that Brown’s life sentence is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment and has also argued that his client deserves a new trial. A habeas corpus petition has been filed and is pending in the Court of Appeals.