Tennessee governor grants clemency to Cyntoia Brown

/ CBS News

Brown granted clemency

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, a 30-year-old woman serving a life sentence for murder who said she was a victim of sex trafficking. The outgoing Republican governor, whose term ends in just two weeks, said he would show mercy to Brown by releasing her Aug. 7.

She will remain on parole supervision for 10 years on the condition she does not violate any state or federal laws, as well as holds a job and participates in regular counseling sessions.

"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 in his statement.

Brown issued a statement expressing thanks to Haslam, her family and legal team.

"I am thankful to my lawyers and their staffs, and all the others who, for the last decade have freely given of their time and expertise to help me get to this day," Brown said. "With God's help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been."

Brown's case has attracted national attention from criminal justice reform advocates, and attention has amped up as Haslam's second and final term entered its final weeks. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and singer Rihanna threw their support behind the fight for her release. The governor's office was inundated with thousands of phone calls and emails from supporters.

Kardashian West applauded the news on Twitter shortly after the announcement.

👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 Thank you Governor Haslam 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 https://t.co/rAiru84fgn

— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) January 7, 2019

Brown was convicted in 2006 of murdering 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen two years before. Police said she shot Allen in the back of the head at close range with a loaded gun she brought to rob him after he picked her up at a drive-in in Nashville.

However, according to her lawyers, Brown was a victim of sex trafficking who not only feared for her life but also lacked the mental state to be culpable in the slaying because she was impaired by her mother's alcohol use while she was in the womb.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. However, the state of Tennessee argued successfully in lower courts that it was not in violation of federal law because Brown did have a possibility for parole: She was sentenced to serve at least 51 years of her life sentence.

During her time in prison, Brown completed her GED and took college classes. She is currently one course away from finishing a Bachelor's degree at Lipscomb University.

Nashville Mayor David Briley praised Haslam's decision, calling it a "great day for social justice and our city." Democratic state Sen. Raumesh Akbari said the clemency announcement shows that Tennessee "can show love, compassion and mercy" for people who have experienced trauma.

To date, Haslam has granted five commutations, 15 pardons and one exoneration. The Republican said he is continuing to review and consider additional clemency requests.

First published on January 7, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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