NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The story of Cyntoia Brown-Long is one of second chances.
After spending 15 years of her life sentence behind bars, Brown-Long became a free woman in August of 2019.
“There is nothing I can say. There is nothing to justify what I did,” said Brown-Long.
Now months into her new life as a free woman after being granted clemency, Brown-Long is sharing her story of redemption.
“I was out there and I didn’t even think that I was having sex for money,” she said.
In 2004, just 16 years old at the time, Brown-Long faced Metro Court judges, charged with the murder and robbery of Johnny Allen in Nashville.
She always admitted to shooting and killing Allen, claiming she was trapped in sex trafficking.
“Should I shoot him? Before he gets to me? I was scared,” she said to investigators.
Lead detective at the time Charles Robinson stands firm the killing wasn’t justified.
“There was nothing that Johnny Allen did to her that night, he was asleep, that would justify what she did other than her motivation to kill him so that she could take stuff out of the house,” said Robinson.
Brown-Long was found guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
The verdict was a huge blow to activists fighting sex trafficking and prostitution.
Representative London Lamar sponsored the Cyntoia Brown Bill.
“For children who are victims of sexual assault, sex trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation,” said Rep. Lamar. “Essentially, we are trying to make sure we are not mistaking the victims of these horrible crimes for the victims themselves.”
While her support grew outside prison walls, inside, Brown-Long was turning her life around.
Through a special program for prisoners, she earned her Associate Degree and later Bachelor’s Degree at Lipscomb University.
Attorney Ed Yarbrough worked on her case, calling Brown-Long’s transformation extraordinary.
“He didn’t have to do it, no court made him do it,” said Yarbrough. “He did it because he felt her life could be productive outside the prison like it was inside.”
That decision came from former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
On January 7 of 2019, he commuted Brown-Long’s life-long sentence.
“We hope that when someone is incarcerated, the whole rehabilitation process works. By all accounts, it has worked with her and she has turned her life around and is prepared to be out,” said Haslam. “She really had worked hard while she was in there to prepare herself for afterwords.”
It was a day of celebration for supporters, including celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Lebron James.
On August 7, 2019, Brown-Long walked out of prison, 15 years to the day she was arrested.
Now Brown-Long continues to build her new life.
Her road to redemption, documented in her new book.
Her activism, giving hope to those currently behind bars.
2019 was a year shaped by significant events. News 2 looks at the impact of the big stories of 2019 with special reports all day Thursday – in every newscast. Click here to read more.