Tennessee’s governor said he is reviewing a case for compassion for a woman who was 16 when she killed a man after the state Supreme Court ruled that she must serve at least 51 years in prison before she is eligible for release.
Though a teenager, Cyntoia Brown was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder in 2006 for the 2004 killing of 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen. He had hired her for sex when she was a teenage prostitute and brought her to his home.
On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court said that defendants who are convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison cannot become eligible for release from prison without serving a minimum of 51 years. The court issued the opinion at the request of the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals, which is considering Brown’s case.
Brown’s legal team has challenged her life sentence in federal court, referencing a 2012 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that says sentencing juveniles to life without parole is cruel and unusual in most cases.
At a compassion hearing in May, Brown appeared before the Tennessee Board of Parole and Probation, but the six members were divided. Two voted to release her, two others voted to deny her request for freedom and the final two members voted to she should come up for parole after serving 25 years in prison. Without a clear consensus from the parole board, the decision is in Gov. Bill Haslam’s hands.
In a higher education forum held at the Nashville Public Library and broadcast live on all six sites of the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee on Monday, Haslam responded to a question from the audience about Brown’s case and the recent state Supreme Court ruling.
“We’re in the midst of reviewing Cyntoia’s case,” Haslam said. “The Supreme Court ruling didn’t really affect what we do one way or the other.
“I will say this, we’re reviewing a lot of cases, and while Cyntoia’s case has gotten a lot of publicity, I don’t think you want us to treat her’s any different than a whole lot of cases that I think people want us to review to see if it’s been handled well, because her’s has gotten publicity.
He went on to point out that he leaves office in January but said a decision will be made before that.
“We’re doing our best to review every aspect of that, talking to everybody involved,” he concluded, “just like we are with several others I wouldn’t say exactly similar cases but somewhat similar cases.
Brown’s case has caught the public’s attention thanks to a documentary, “Me Facing Life: The Cyntoia Brown Story” and some high-profile support from celebrities including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Lebron James.