Nashville, TN – The governor of Tennessee granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Brown on Monday, giving relief to a woman who had been sentenced to life in prison at age 16.
Governor Bill Haslam called the now 30-year-old Brown’s case “tragic and complex,” National Public Radio reported.
Brown murdered a 43-year-old real estate agent named Johnny Allen in 2004.
Allen had picked up the teenage prostitute at a restaurant and taken her home with him.
Police said Brown brought a loaded gun she planned to use to rob Allen when he picked her up at the drive-thru in Nashville, KABC reported.
Prosecutors said Brown shot Allen in the head at close range.
However, Brown’s legal team has maintained that she was a victim of sex trafficking who lacked the mental capacity to be responsible for her actions, according to KABC.
They said Brown was a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome and mentally impaired as a result of it.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles could not be sentenced to life in prison, it was determined that the ruling didn’t apply to Brown because she was eligible for parole after having served 51 years of her sentence.
The governor of Tennessee didn’t believe that was a fair sentence.
"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," Haslam said, "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."
The governor’s conditions included being released on parole for 10 years and a plan to complete “re-entry programming” prior to her release into the general public, according to NPR.
Brown will have served 15 years of her sentence when she is released on Aug. 7.
The governor also acknowledged that more criminal justice reforms in the form of protections for minors were needed, NPR reported.
"While we have spent a considerable amount of time studying and implementing sentencing and criminal justice reform in our state, there is more work to be done," Haslam said. "I am hopeful serious consideration of additional reforms will continue, especially with respect to the sentencing of juveniles."
Brown expressed her gratitude to the governor and those who supported her.
"Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me,” Brown said.
She also thanked "those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging," NPR reported.
Brown also said thank you to her instructors at Lipscomb University, whom she credited with "opening up a whole new world for me,” according to NPR.
"I have one course left to finish my Bachelor's degree, which I will complete in May 2019," she said.
Brown’s case had attracted national attention and become a pet project of Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna, according to KABC.
Kardashian West tweeted a thank you to the governor shortly after his decision was announced.