Days before leaving office, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown.
Brown will be released to parole supervision on Aug. 7, exactly 15 years to the day when she was arrested in 2004. Before her release, Brown will meet with counselors on designing a reentry plan and her parole conditions will require that she not violate any state or federal laws.
She will also be subject to a release plan approved by the Tennessee Department of Correction and special supervision conditions, including employment, education, counseling, and community engagement requirements.
Her parole supervision will continue until August 7, 2029.
“She just lit up with a joy I have never seen before [when she heard the news] and I have known Cyntoia since the day after she was arrested,” attorney Kathy Sinback said.
Shortly after announcing his decision, Haslam said during a fundraiser that his clemency for Brown was “the right thing to do.”
Brown was 16 when she was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a Nashville man in 2004.
Gov. Haslam said his decision to grant Brown clemency comes after “careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case.”
Brown was reportedly trapped in prostitution and a victim of child sex trafficking at the time when she shot and killed Jimmy Allen.
Allen picked up the then 16-year-old at the Sonic on Murfreesboro Pike and brought her home.
The two got into bed together and at some point, Brown killed Allen. She claimed self-defense, but prosecutors maintained that Brown killed the 43-year-old real estate agent in order to rob him.
“There is nothing I can say. There is nothing to justify what I did,” Brown previously said.
“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,” Haslam said.
Brown released a statement shortly after the governor’s decision writing in part, “Thank you, Gov. Haslam for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”
The statement continued, “I am thankful for all the support, prayers and encouragement I have received. 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… 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 gained national attention after celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, Gabrielle Union and Rihanna all showed their support for the young woman on social media.
Kardashian-West tweeted shortly after Haslam announced his decision saying, “Thank you, Governor Haslam.”
Actress Alyssa Milano wrote, “Yes!!! Cyntoia Brown is granted full clemency! Thank you, Governor Haslam! Thank you!”
Several Tennessee lawmakers and pastors also pushed for Haslam to grant Brown clemency recently, saying it “is the right thing to do for this young woman.”
“We are here to say thank you to everybody here and across the world involved in pleading for and praying for the release of Cyntoia Brown,” said attorney Charles Bone.
“I am deeply grateful to Governor Haslam for his decision to commute the sentence of Cyntoia Brown today. He has yet again demonstrated that mercy, redemption and forgiveness have an important place in our democracy and criminal justice system… This is a great day for social justice and our city,” Nashville Mayor David Briley said in a statement.
While jailed, Brown has earned her associate degree through the Lipscomb LIFE program with a 4.0 GPA. She is also expected to earn her bachelor’s degree in May.
State Senator Brenda Gilmore said, “Cyntoia is the number one reason that she is getting this second chance, because she has grown and embraced all the positivity and progress that we expect of upstanding people in our society. Considering her many obstacles, she has persevered and dedicated herself to personal growth. Cyntoia should be proud of herself, and people of good conscience should be proud as well.”
Executive clemency is an act of mercy or leniency by the governor after a criminal conviction. Gov. Haslam has previously granted five commutations, 15 pardons and one exoneration.