Despite being a victim of sex trafficking, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that Cyntoia Brown must spend 51 years behind bars for killing a man who tried to have sex with her, fearing he was going to kill her.
The ruling has sparked outrage, with many of Brown’s supporters now calling on Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to grant a pardon.
The Women’s March announced that it would dedicate January’s protest to Cyntoia “and all those criminalized for surviving.” The group tweeted “Gov. Haslam has the power to #FreeCyntoia.”
“Every day she remains in prison, he is actively choosing not to.”
Governing Magazine reports:
In 2004, 16-year-old Brown was picked up on the side of the road by Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen, 43, who took her home for sex. The teenage girl, who had run away from home and was living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a pimp who went by “Kut Throat,” fatally shot Allen in bed after she thought he was reaching for his own gun, her lawyers said.
Brown was tried as an adult, convicted of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery and was sentenced to life in prison.
Tennessee laws have changed since Brown was convicted, though, and a person must be 18 or older to be charged for prostitution. Children are automatically considered the victim in sex trafficking cases.
Brown has called her life sentencing “cruel and unusual punishment,” citing a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life sentences for juveniles without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional.
However, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee disagreed, arguing that the 2012 decision did not apply to Brown because she is not eligible for parole until she is age 69.
A number of celebrities, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, have condemned how Brown has been treated like a criminal when she is in fact a victim of human trafficking.
“The system has failed,” tweeted Kardashian in Nov. 2017, adding “Free Cyntoia Brown.”