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News > U.S.

Governor Removes Homicide Charges from Sex Trafficking Victim

  • In 2006, prosecutors tried then-16-year-old Cyntoia Brown as an adult for the murder of her captor Johnny Allen and sentenced her to life in prison.

    In 2006, prosecutors tried then-16-year-old Cyntoia Brown as an adult for the murder of her captor Johnny Allen and sentenced her to life in prison. | Photo: Tennessee Department of Corrections

Published 7 January 2019

“Imposing a life sentence on a juvenile (Cyntoia Brown) is too harsh,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, an alleged victim of sex trafficking, after serving nearly 15 years of a life sentence for killing her abuser, Haslam’s office confirmed Monday.


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"This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case," Haslam said in a statement.

“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.

“Transformation should be accompanied by hope.  So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions,” said Haslam.

The announcement arrives after calls for her liberation brought celebrities and activists together across the nation in solidarity with the alleged victim who was convicted in 2006 for the murder of Nashville real estate agent, Johnny Allen, 43, in 2004.

As a teen, Brown was solicited for sex through her pimp, alias “Cut Throat,” and found herself in Allen’s home where she was abused as a sex slave in 2004 until she shot and killed him while he slept. Brown confessed to stealing his money, guns, and truck in an attempt to escape the situation and consequences brought on by her pimp.

In a 2011 documentary, "Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story," Brown recounted the injuries suffered at the hands of her abusers, “The first time he did something to me is when he choked me and I passed out. I made him money...he wasn't going to let me go nowhere. He told me he'd kill me."

However, in 2006, prosecutors argued the murder was motivated by robbery and not conducted in self-defense and closed the case with a life sentence for the sixteen-year-old girl.

Derri Smith, CEO and founder of the NGO End Slavery Tennessee, said, “If you look at Cyntoia's original transcripts, they are peppered with the phrase 'teen prostitute.

“Well we know today there's no such thing as a teen prostitute ... because this teen may think that she decided this was her idea to be raped multiple times a day and give money to someone else, it's pretty clear there's an adult behind that who's manipulating and exploiting her," Smith said.

Throughout the last 14 years, Brown has passed the time with education- first completing her GED, before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree. She has worked as an advocate for troubled teens, and is planning on starting her own nonprofit, Smith said.

"I learned that my life was -- and is -- not over. I can create opportunities where I can actually help people," Brown said.

In an emotional Twitter post, Brown thanked her legal team, Gov. Haslam, her family, and all her supporters for their efforts.

“I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received,” she said. “We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without him. Let today be a testament to his saving grace.”

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