For the last 13 years, Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim, has been serving a life sentence in a Tennessee jail for killing her john. Brown, who was tried as an adult when she was 16 years old, caught the media’s attention when activists and celebrities rallied for a new trial for her to be granted clemency. Almost a year later, Brown has been granted a new hearing for May 23.
According to the New York Times, Tennessee’s Board of Probation and Parole, appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, will hear Brown’s clemency petition; the decision of whether or not to recommend releasing Brown will be in their hands. The final decision will be the governor’s.
When Brown was 16, she fatally shot a man who paid her for sex. Brown’s story caught the media attention when Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, a 2011 documentary by filmmaker Dan Birman, resurfaced on social media. Celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian publicized Brown’s story.
Republican Tennessee state Rep. Jeremy Faison has been pushing for Brown’s release and argues that laws that were in place at the time of her sentencing were not fair. And in 2016 he attempted to introduce a bill that would require the review of life sentences handed down to juveniles after serving 15 years, but the bill was never passed.
“Did she kill the guy? Absolutely. Did we have proof of why she killed him? No, we don’t,” Faison said. “She was the victim of a man who picked her up when she was 16.”
But not everyone is in favor of granting Brown clemency. Like Jeff Burks, the man who prosecuted her when she was a teen. Burks thinks that Brown isn’t a victim because she actually tried to recruit someone to rob the john after she killed him.
“What should the law be as to a 16-year-old who does this? I don’t weigh in on that,” he said. “But the facts of the case, I have a strong position on.”
Faison also hopes that the governor will consider a pardon. Either way, the rest of Brown’s life is now in the governor’s hands.