Parole board splits on whether Haslam should grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown

The state Board of Paroles split three ways Wednesday in a voting on whether to recommend that Gov. Bill Haslam grant some form of clemency Cyntoia Brown, a Nashville woman serving a life sentence for a murder she committed in 2004 at age 16, reports The Tennessean. The upshot is no clear suggestion to Haslam, who has said he’s aware of the case that has received national attention while giving indication of his inclinations.

Two voted to recommend that the governor grant clemency, allowing for her release from prison. Two members voted to recommend that Haslam deny her clemency bid, meaning she would continue to serve a life sentence.

Two members recommended the governor reduce Brown’s current sentence of life in prison with the eligibility of parole after 51 years to a sentence that comes with the eligibility of parole after 25 years. That would mean Brown would continue to serve an additional 11 years in prison before getting a parole hearing. A seventh board member was not present.

… The recommendations came at the end of an emotional three-and-one-half hour hearing Wednesday at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.

Brown, now 30, confessed to shooting real estate agent Johnny Allen, 43, after he picked her up at an east Nashville Sonic Drive-In. Allen was a stranger and Brown, who had run away from home, was living in a hotel with a man whom, she said, forced her into prostitution.

Prosecutors said she committed a cold blooded murder, then robbed Allen before she fled with his car. Advocates for Brown have said she was a victim of sex trafficking who feared for her life while with Allen.

… “There are people here today and they are hurting 14 years later and I did that and I can’t fix that. I can’t fix that,” Brown said.

“I am a changed person because I had no choice but to be,” she said. “If I were to get out today, it would still be the same. There would still be something I’ve done that I can’t undo.”

But, Brown said, she would use the opportunity of life outside of prison to reach out to other troubled teens.

Brown has amassed a committed group of backers, including prominent Nashville attorneys, youth advocates and even victim advocate groups. They took turns testifying about the transformation undergone by Brown in prison, where she has earned an associates degree, mentored other prisoners and even volunteered to counsel teens in the city’s juvenile justice system by participating in their classes via speaker home.

Several people were there on behalf of Allen, the victim. Had he lived, Allen would be 57 years old.

Anna Whaley, a longtime friend of Allen’s, said his story has been lost in all the attention focused on Brown.

“Johnny has a voice, and Johnny’s family has a voice,” she said. “Johnny’s voice has not been heard in all these years. I want to say Johnny’s life mattered.”

Cyntoia went out that night with a loaded gun in her purse and that was the gun she used to kill Johnny,” Whaley said. “She robbed Johnny after she shot him in the back of the head.”

“There is no proof Johnny picked her up for sex,” she said. “All we know is that Johnny offered her food….We know for sure that she shot him.”

Note: On the national attention front, see also the New York Times, which includes this observation in its web post on the hearing (with links): Her case has  attracted the public support of celebrities including RihannaLeBron JamesSnoop Dogg and Kim Kardashian West.



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