Haslam grants clemency to Cyntoia Brown

Gov. Bill Haslam has granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who will be released from prison after serving 15 years in August.

“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said.  “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 was sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed as a 16-year-old in 2004. She had run away from home and told the Board of Parole earlier this year that she acted in self-defense in shooting the man after she was forced into prostitution. Without modifications to her sentence, Brown wouldn’t have been eligible for parole until after 51 years in prison. Efforts to free her have drawn the support of celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and LeBron James.

The Board of Parole had split three ways in making their recommendation to Haslam: Chairman Richard Montgomery, a former Republican state lawmaker from Sevierville, and former Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, a finalist for TBI director, called for her to be granted clemency; Gay Gregson and Zane Duncan said her sentence should be reduced to 25 years, meaning she would serve 11 more years in prison; and Roberta Kustoff, wife of U.S. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Memphis), and former Rep. Barrett Rich (R-Somerville) said clemency should be denied.

“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance,” Brown said in a release. “I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”

See the full releases from Haslam and Brown after the jump.

STATEMENT FROM GOV. BILL HASLAM’S OFFICE:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today granted executive clemency to Cyntoia Denise Brown by commuting her sentence of life imprisonment.  She will be released to parole supervision on August 7, 2019, after serving 15 years in prison.

“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said.  “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’s parole conditions will require that she not violate any state or federal laws, and she will be subject to a release plan approved by the Tennessee Department of Correction and special supervision conditions, including employment, education, counseling, and community engagement requirements.  Parole supervision will continue until August 7, 2029, at which point Brown’s sentence will expire.  She will complete re-entry programming prior to her release from custody in August in order to facilitate a successful transition to the community.

In 2006, Brown was convicted by a Davidson County jury of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery for the 2004 murder of 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen, which occurred when then-16-year-old Brown was picked up by Allen and taken to his home.  She received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 51 years in prison, which means she would not have been eligible for parole consideration until 2055, at the earliest, without the governor’s action.

While in prison, Brown has earned her GED and completed an associate degree in 2015 through the Lipscomb LIFE program with a 4.0 GPA.  It is anticipated that she will complete a bachelor’s degree in 2019.  Numerous Department of Correction employees and volunteers attest to her extraordinary personal transformation while incarcerated, which will allow her to be a positive influence on the community upon release.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Board of Parole issued a positive recommendation to the governor in favor of granting Brown a commutation.

“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.”

Executive clemency is an act of mercy or leniency by the governor after a criminal conviction. Haslam has previously granted five commutations, 15 pardons, and one exoneration.  Haslam continues to review and consider additional clemency requests.

STATEMENT OF CYNTOIA DENISE BROWN:

“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.”

STATEMENT OF CYNTOIA BROWN’S LEGAL TEAM:

The following statement was issued by Charles W. Bone and J. Houston Gordon, the lead attorneys representing Cyntoia Brown:

“We applaud Governor Haslam’s decision to grant clemency to Cyntoia. This is truly a joyful moment – for Cyntoia and for all of us who have worked to help her.

The governor’s decision is proof that our justice system works and it marks the beginning of a new chapter for Cyntoia. Her journey began in despair but was rewritten by her as one of hope and anticipation. Her transformation, when given the opportunity, is nothing short of miraculous. She is truly a remarkable young woman with so much to offer this world and will now have that chance.

This long emotional journey has touched and inspired so many people. We want to thank everyone who believed in Cyntoia and helped us get to this day. But most of all, we want to thank Governor Haslam and his legal team. Without them this day would not be possible.”

3 Responses to Haslam grants clemency to Cyntoia Brown

  • Michael Lottman says:

    One of the most humane and righteous things this governor has ever done, and a shining capstone to his term–which, you must admit, was not always marked by an equivalent sense of justice and compassion. Haslam did not always exercise the function of a leader, failed to confront the extremists in the state legislature on health care, affordable housing, immigration, and the need for human services, signed any number of terrible bills into law, and allowed the state to sink into virtual bankruptcy. This act of decency allows him to be remembered well, but it also leaves us with a sense of regret as to the kind of governor he might have been.

  • R Burr says:

    Although Gov Haslam did the right thing, nothing has been said focusing on the part of her story regarding why she ended up in the position for the murder to have happened. Admitting she had committed the murder seems to have had no weight when she was originally sentenced. What does this all “point to”? It points to the fact the man killed was a real estate agent and assumed a good citizen who in fact was paying a 16 year old girl for sex. It seems a Donald Trump mentality was in place then… that the man could get by with whatever and a girl of color had no rights. Has that changed?

  • Diana Page says:

    I am so relieved that Gov. Haslam has taken this step, and especially pleased that his statement included a need for further sentencing reform, to include sentencing of juveniles.

    I hope that Lee’s term of office will include thorough and effective sentencing reforms, and other criminal justice reforms. As Gov. Haslam stated, there is much left to be done.

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