By Christine Hauser
Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee on Monday granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, a 30-year-old woman serving a life sentence for fatally shooting a man in 2004 who had hired her as a prostitute when she was a teenage sex-trafficking victim.
A statement from the office of Haslam, a Republican, said Brown would be released to supervised parole Aug. 7, 2019, after serving 15 years in prison.
"Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16," Haslam said in the statement. "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," he said. "So, I am commuting Ms. Brown's sentence, subject to certain conditions."
Brown's story had attracted national attention and widespread support from celebrities, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West, as well as lawmakers and rights activists who highlighted the years of abuse and forced prostitution that she endured in her youth.
Brown's mother, who abused drugs and alcohol, placed her for adoption as a child, according to court documents. At 16, Brown ran away from her adoptive family and started to live in a motel with a pimp who raped her and forced her to become a prostitute.
In 2004, Johnny M. Allen, 43, a real estate broker, picked up Brown at a restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, and drove her to his home, after she agreed to engage in sexual activity for $150, court documents say.
After they got into bed, Brown said she thought he was reaching for a gun to kill her. She later shot him in his sleep with a handgun from her purse, took money and two guns, and fled, documents say.
Brown, tried as an adult, was convicted by a Davidson County jury in 2006 of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. She was sentenced to life in prison and would not have been eligible for parole consideration until 2055.
Under the executive clemency granted by the governor, Brown will be under supervised parole for 10 years, until Aug. 7, 2029.
Haslam said in his statement that Brown earned her high school equivalency diploma and an associate degree with a 4.0 GPA while imprisoned. She is continuing her education, the statement said, and is expected to earn a bachelor's degree in May.
"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," the governor said.
In a statement released by her lawyers, Brown thanked the governor "for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me."
She also thanked officials in the Department of Corrections who helped her get an education and "saw something in me worth salvaging."
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