Tennessee – Cyntoia Brown was convicted in 2006 for the murder of 43-year-old John Allen, who picked her up for sex.
The then 16-year-old, says she was forced into sex work by her boyfriend, a pimp who went by the name “Kutthroat” and who serially raped and physically abused her.
The john who preyed on Brown that fateful night was a Nashville real estate agent. He took her home, showed her his massive gun collection, and headed to the bedroom.
“He grabbed me in-between my legs — he just grabbed it real hard,” Brown told the court.
Brown said she panicked when Allen turned to get something from under the bed. Thinking she was about to die, she took out the .40-calibre handgun Kutthroat had given her and shot Allen in the head.
She would be tried as an adult. And since she robbed Allen of his wallet and guns from the house, prosecutors said the attack was premeditated. Cyntoia had maintained that she acted in self-defense but her plea did not hold weight. Ultimately, she was convicted or murder and aggravated robbery being sentenced to life in prison. She is currently serving her time at Tennessee’s Prison for Women with a chance for parole at 67.
Why is the case being resurfaced?
Brown’s lawyer for a decade has been fighting, saying his client was a victim of sex trafficking. He appealed the case on the grounds of ineffective initial counsel and the Eight Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.
Brown’s case would first get attention in a compelling 2011 PBS documentary directed by filmmaker Dan Birman. The documentary would shed light on years of abuse and trauma Brown endured, first starting as a baby when her mother testified she drank alcohol during her pregnancy. Cyntoia would later show telltale signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, which slows brain development.
Cynotia not only faced trauma but dealt with a history of mental illness as her birth mother tried to commit suicide, and her grandmother and grandfather both died as a result of suicide. If that isn’t enough, Brown’s mother and grandmother were both victims of rape.
Cyntoia Brown would eventually be adopted by a family in Clarksville, Tenn., as a result of the woes her mother faced with drug addiction and other issues. She would drop out of elementary school and run away to Nashville. By the age of 16, Cyntoia Brown was living in a motel with a pimp named “Kut Throat”, who raped and abused her, while forcing her to become a prostitute.
“This is a young girl who’s at the tail end of three generations of violence against women,” Birman told Fox 17 News. “She had no chance.”
The documentary was so impactful that it changed Tennessee’s laws for children like Brown in 2011. Now, anyone 18 or younger can’t even be charged with prostitution. But despite its impact, Brown still sits in jail after a traumatic childhood that led to the fatal incident.
Brown’s advocates told the Times that she has been a model inmate, earning a G.E.D. and an associate degree over her thirteen years behind bars. Brown, now 28, is also reportedly aiming for a bachelor of arts by next year.
On social media, new attention has shed light on Cyntoia Brown’s case with celebrities like Kim Karadashian, Rihanna, and T.I. rallying to get Brown out of jail, calling what happened “a grave injustice”. In a twitter post, Kim Kardashian said she going to see if her lawyers can do anything to help with the case.
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The system has failed. It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this. #FreeCyntoiaBrown pic.twitter.com/73y26mLp7u
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) November 21, 2017
The hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown has also been picking up momentum on Twitter.
Charles Boone, the lawyer in Nashville who took Brown’s case pro-bono, told the New York Times, they were appreciative of number of celebrities who joined their plea and Cyntoia was thrilled by the fact people really cared.
While Cyntoia’s case happened a decade ago, it sheds light on the treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system. Charles Boone, is hopeful a new appeal will go through, having the court, legislature, or ultimately the governor consider her case and shorten her sentence.