Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has granted Cyntoia Brown clemency.
The decision comes just 11 days before Haslam leaves office on Jan. 18. Brown will now be released on parole supervision on August 7, 2019, after serving 15 years in prison.
Brown's case has garnered national attention following an outpouring of support from celebrities to Tennessee lawmakers.
Sentenced to life in prison, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in December Brown must serve 51 years of her life sentence for the 2004 murder of Johnny Allen. Then 16-years-old, advocates say Brown had been a victim of sex trafficking when the former Nashville realtor purchased her for sex.
Brown's case is a rarity as 98% of clemency applications never make it to the governor's desk. Back in May, a Tennessee prison parole board couldn’t come to a decision to recommend clemency for Brown. Hours of emotional pleas lead to a split decision – and therefore no clemency recommendation.
Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, Amy Schumer and other celebrities have supported Brown as she fought her life sentence. Thousands on social media used #FreeCyntoiaBrown to advocate for Brown.
FOX 17 News anchor Stacy Case has been investigating Brown's case for years, bringing nationwide awareness to the events surrounding Brown's plight for freedom.
In a statement release, Haslam called the case "tragic and complex." “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.”
Brown issued the following statement in response to the governor's decision:
“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.
I want to thank those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging, especially Ms. Connie Seabrooks for allowing me to participate in the Lipscomb LIFE Program. It changed my life. I am also grateful to those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who will work with me over the next several months to help me in the transition from prison to the free world.
Thank you to Dr. Richard Goode and Dr. Kate Watkins and all of you at Lipscomb University for opening up a whole new world for me. I have one course left to finish my Bachelor’s degree, which I will complete in May 2019.
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.
Thank you to my family for being a backbone these past 14 years.
I am thankful to my lawyers and their staffs, and all the others who, for the last decade have freely given of their time and expertise to help me get to this day.
I love all of you and will be forever grateful.
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.
Thank you.” -Cyntoia Brown
District Attorney General Glenn Funk issued the following statement on Governor Haslam's decision:
"The Governor’s decision to commute the sentence of Cyntoia Brown is an exercise of his authority under the Tennessee Constitution.
The District Attorney’s office remembers the victims in this case, who was killed as slept and whose death cannot be reversed.
The District Attorney’s office also recognizes that at the time of her offense, Ms. Brown was a juvenile and a victim of sex trafficking.
The Governor obviously arrived at his decision after careful consideration. He no doubt took into account the apparent rehabilitation of Ms.
Brown while in custody, including her graduation from college and her conduct while incarcerated."
Nashville Mayor David Briley commended Haslam on his decision:
"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.
I also want to thank my former colleagues at Bone McAllester Norton and the advocates and organizations who fought so hard for Ms. Brown’s freedom.
This is a great day for social justice and our city."
Statement from Sen. Brenda Gilmore:
I want to sincerely thank Governor Bill Haslam for being courageous in the face of a serious decision. Governor Haslam reviewed the case and listened to thousands of voices resonating across Tennessee and around the country. Although Brown made a grave mistake when she was 16, her mistake should not result in the forfeiture of her entire life. Brown was raised in an environment saturated with physical and psychological abuse. She was later raped and trapped in a life of sex trafficking by an abusive pimp. These were the circumstances in which a man was tragically killed during his purchase of Cyntoia, a minor, for sex. Governor Haslam saw that life in prison was not justice for this abused teenager. I thank Governor Haslam for showing compassion for a black woman, which society often overlooks.
I congratulate Cyntoia Brown for making the best out of her life after this tragedy. The State of Tennessee and countless adults let her down during her childhood. But, since her incarceration, Cyntoia has done all that she can do to improve and empower herself. She has obtained a college degree and serves as a mentor to empower other female victims of sexual violence. 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.
I would also like to thank all the supporters of this great noble effort to bring justice for this young woman. No matter whether you marched, wrote to the governor, posted on social media, informed your neighbors, or prayed for this young woman, it took all of our combined energies to get our mission accomplished and we should all be very proud and hopeful this day.