A woman convicted of murdering a sex predator while she was 16 years old has been granted clemency in what is described as a major victory for criminal justice reform.
It was “A major victory for human rights advocates,” said ex-prosecutor Preston Shipp, who previously opposed parole for Cyntonia Brown, convicted of murder 15 years ago. Shipp’s view was included in an op-ed article USA Today published on Jan. 11.
Clemency was approved by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Brown is scheduled for release in August.
The case garnered viral status on social media with support from celebrities such as Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and LeBron James.
Cyntoia was born with fetal alcohol syndrome due to her mother’s alcoholism; was subjected to abuse and neglect as a child, lived on the streets, self-medicated her own mental health issues with alcohol and drugs; and was subsequently victimized and exploited by a human trafficker at the age of 16.
She then killed one of her “Johns,” who was 27 years older than her, claiming self-defense. She was tried and sentenced as an adult to a mandatory 51 years in prison.
The Nashville Tennessean reported Gov. Haslam acknowledged sentence reform and juvenile sentencing reductions by saying, “… 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 also said, “Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions,” including parole for 10 years.
Mariame Kaba, co-founder of Survived and Punished, an organization that supports survivors of violence who have been criminalized for defending themselves, described Ms. Brown’s journey to freedom when she was interviewed by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.
“Well, I think it’s important to note that Cyntoia has been surrounded by a support team of people for at least the past decade….make sure people understand this (clemency) didn’t come out of nowhere and that people have been fighting on her behalf for almost as long as she’s been incarcerated.”
Kaba stressed, “…I think people should know that… parole is extremely, extremely restrictive… And so, she’s go- ing to have to be very careful for the next 10 years that she doesn’t get violated back. So she’s not 100 percent free.”
One of Cyntoia’s attorneys, J. Houston Gordon, emphasized the need to change laws regarding juveniles at the national level, “Her story, though, is a story that should be a catalyst for a lot of others, thousands of juveniles.
“We need to see this as a national awakening to change the draconian laws that allow juveniles, children, to be placed in adult prisons.”
Ex-prosecutor Shipp commented, “Cyntoia’s story should not demand our attention because she is a rare exception. The opposite is true.”
He became an instructor at Cyntoia’s prison. Shipp lauded her transformation by writing, “Cyntoia has experienced emotional healing from her traumatic past and has diligently worked to become an exceptional person…(she has) cultivated a deep desire to help others. I am thrilled beyond measure that she’ll be able to build a life outside of prison.”
Brown thanked the governor “for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”
She added, “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 took accountability for her own actions, and transformed herself through education and self-healing classes, Shipp wrote.