Is there hope for Cyntoia Brown to receive clemency? Perhaps.
According to Rolling Stone, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam revealed on Monday that his office is reviewing the case – in which Brown was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for killing a man who had solicited her for sex – and will have an answer before he leaves office in six weeks.
Brown was only 16 when 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen took her to his home after soliciting her for sex. Prosecutors have argued that Brown intended to rob him when she killed him, although Brown and her lawyers repeatedly have insisted that she shot Allen in self-defense because she believed he was going to kill her.
Brown, a sex trafficking victim, said that she went with Allen in order to get money for an abusive boyfriend who forced her into prostitution, the news site notes. She said she only took money from Allen’s wallet because she was afraid of what would happen to her if she returned to her boyfriend without money.
Nonetheless, Brown has spent the last 14 years in prison, and last week the Tennessee Supreme Court decided that she must serve 51 years before she can be considered for parole.
That ruling was in response to Brown’s lawsuit, in which she claimed that her harsh sentence was unconstitutional under a 2012 opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that mandatory life sentences without the chance of parole for juvenile offenders goes against the Constitution.
The Tennessee Supreme Court argued “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.”
This is where Governor Haslam comes in. He was speaking at an event about the importance of higher education in the state when Justin Lang, a member of Black Lives Matter Nashville, and a higher education professional pointedly questioned him about Brown’s incarceration.
Lang framed the question by pointing out that Brown earned her associate’s degree from Lipscomb while incarcerated.
“As a victim of sex trafficking and assault, this is an unjust sentence in the first place,” Lang said. “She has not been treated as a victim of trafficking and not given the justice she deserves.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision that Cyntoia must serve 51 years before she can be considered for parole is a human rights issue,” he added. “And so I ask you, what really, functionally, is the difference between life without parole — which is no longer constitutional as the United States Supreme Court declared for minors, for any crime — and ‘you might get parole after 51 years,’ for a victim of sex trafficking?”
According to Rolling Stone, one of the moderators on the panel tried to move on to another question but Lang persisted:
“I ask why has Cyntoia Brown been incarcerated for 14 years for enduring harm? And so I say Governor Haslam, you have the power and ability to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown, and so I ask when will you grant her clemency, I ask what will be your legacy as you leave office, and how will you answer to this human rights violation that the state of Tennessee is committing by keeping her incarcerated?”
The governor acknowledged Lang’s question, thanking him and noting that his office is currently reviewing the case.
“We’re reviewing a lot of cases and while Cyntoia’s case has gotten a lot of publicity, I don’t think you want us to treat hers any different than a whole lot of cases that I think people want us to review,” he said.
Nonetheless, Haslam acknowledged that an answer to Brown’s clemency will be revealed before he leaves office in six weeks.
However, that did little to appease the crowd, which apparently reportedly started chanting “What do we want? Clemency! When do we want it? Now!”