Outgoing Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced Monday that he is granting clemency to Cyntoia Brown, a woman given a life sentence as a minor for murdering and robbing a man who bought her for sex. Part of the reason for the governor’s decision, according to Fox 47 News, was that a local pastor and others advocated on Brown’s behalf.
“I am thankful for all the support, prayers and encouragement I have received,” Brown said in a statement responding to the news about her pardon. “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.”
The Tennessee Department of Corrections has a mentoring program through which a local pastor, Bishop Joseph W. Walker III, and his church were working with Brown. Walker has known Gov. Haslam for several years and spoke to the governor on the phone in December, asking him to show Brown leniency.
Brown, now 30, was 16 when she shot Johnny Allen in the back of the head. Brown said she killed Allen because she thought he was reaching for a gun and she was afraid her life was in danger. She then took Allen’s guns and money to her pimp because she feared returning to him without anything. Brown was sentenced to life in prison for her crimes with a chance at parole after 51 years.
Walker is one of many of Brown’s advocates who have pointed out that Brown was a victim of human trafficking when she committed her crimes and that she has had an exemplary record of bettering herself during her time in prison. She currently has her associate’s degree and is working on her bachelor’s. Walker said that when he spoke with Haslam, he talked to the governor about “forgiveness and second chances.”
In the end, the governor agreed that Brown’s sentence was too harsh. Given that she was a juvenile when she committed her crimes, the time she has already served, and her “extraordinary steps…to rebuild her life,” Haslam said he believed she deserved mercy. “Transformation should be accompanied by hope.”
Fox 47 News reports that Tennessee has changed its laws for juveniles since Brown was sentenced. However, one of Brown’s attorneys said that her experience ought to spark change across the country: “We need to see this as a national awakening to change the Draconian laws that allow juveniles…to be placed in adult prisons when they’re just children.”
Walker says that when he met Brown for the first time, he noticed her generosity as well as her focus on her future and on serving other people.
This seems more than evident both by Brown’s behavior and her words. In her statement, she said, “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 is scheduled for parole on August 7.