Tennessee governor considering clemency for sex trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said that he is considering the clemency request for Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim who was sentenced to life in prison for killing a 43-year-old man who solicited her for sex when she was 16 years old.

Brown said she shot and killed her victim, Johnny Mitchell Allan, after she resisted his advances, believing he was reaching for a gun. She then took a gun out of her purse and shot and killed Allan. Last week, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Brown must serve 51 years in prison before being eligible for release.

Haslam was delivering remarks addressing the importance of higher education at an event on Monday when he was pressed by Justin Laing, a member of Black Lives Matter Nashville and an education professional, about the recent ruling, according to Rolling Stone.

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“Since we’re here talking about education, I wanted to ask a question about one of your Tennessee students and a graduate of Lipscomb University, Cyntoia Brown,” Laing said, reportedly earning applause from the audience. Brown had reportedly earned an associate's degree from Lipscomb while she was incarcerated.

“As a victim of sex trafficking and assault, this is an unjust sentence in the first place,” Laing said. “She has not been treated as a victim of trafficking and not given the justice she deserves.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision that Cyntoia must serve 51 years before she can be considered for parole is a human rights issue,” Laing said. “And so I ask you, what really, functionally, is the difference between life without parole — which is no longer constitutional as the United States Supreme Court declared for minors, for any crime — and ‘you might get parole after 51 years’ for a victim of sex trafficking?”

According to the magazine, a moderator at the event attempted to interrupt Laing at one point before he went on to say: “And so I ask why has Cyntoia Brown been incarcerated for 14 years for enduring harm? And so I say Gov. Haslam, you have the power and ability to grant clemency to Cyntoia Brown, and so I ask when will you grant her clemency, I ask what will be your legacy as you leave office, and how will you answer to this human rights violation that the state of Tennessee is committing by keeping her incarcerated?”

Haslam reportedly thanked Laing for the question and told him that his office is reviewing Brown’s case.

“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 hers any different than a whole lot of cases that I think people want us to review,” Haslam said. 

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After Haslam reiterated his office was carefully reviewing Brown’s case and that a decision would be made on the clemency request before he leaves office in a few weeks, a woman reportedly shouted: “That’s not good enough!”

“What do we want? Clemency! When do we want it? Now!” the crowd reportedly chanted, along with chants of “No justice, no peace.”

Brown’s case last year caught the attention of high-profile Hollywood stars, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, who used their social media platforms to protest the life sentence Brown was handed.

A MoveOn.org petition has also received more than 500,000 electronic signatures from people who support her release.