As sexual harassment and violence against women remains a part of the national conversation, the case of Cyntoia Brown, a 16-year-old victim of sexual abuse sentenced to life for killing a man who picked her up for sex, is again brought into the spotlight by celebrities using social media.
In 2004, Brown ran away from a her adoptive parents' home. She wound up living with a 24-year-old pimp known as "Cut Throat," who raped and abused her and forced her into prostitution. She was convicted for the killing of a 43-year-old Nashville man, Johnny Allen, while they were in bed. Brown is now 29 and imprisoned in Tennessee — eligible for parole when she is 69.
Superstar Rihanna made an Instagram post last week commenting on Brown's imprisonment and advocating for her release from prison. She ended her comments with the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown, which went viral.
did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way?? cause..... Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child's sentence I hope to God you don't have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already! #FREECYNTOIABROWN #HowManyMore
Other celebrities including LeBron James, Snoop Dogg, T.I. and Kim Kardashian West have used social media to comment on Brown's case. Kardashian is also getting her lawyers involved in providing aid to Brown.
Charles Bone, Brown's attorney, told Fox 17, a local news station, that his client is "very shocked and surprised and thankful, as we all are, for the interest of these celebrities."
Brown said: "Just to see all the people and all the different organizations who believe in me and who want to stand up for me, it's humbling and mind-blowing."
On Nov. 16, Fox 17 News published an investigation regarding Brown's case.
"In her 2004 trial, Brown explained how there was always a gun being pointed at her," according to the news channel. "She was being hit, choked and dragged" by Cut Throat.
"She did kill someone," said Derri Smith, the Founder of End Slavery TN. "She deeply regrets it, but she was a child and she was being exploited."
Brown testified she was afraid of Allen, who picked her up and took her to his home. She described him as "an old Caucasian man."
Allen told her that he used to be in the military, that he was a sharp-shooter, and that he could "shoot the eye out of a piss ant," according to court documents.
Brown believed he was reaching for his gun when she killed him.
"He was a sharpshooter in the Army," she said. "I'm sitting here thinking, 'If he does something, what am I going to do?'"
After shooting him, Brown took Allen's wallet and two guns, drove his truck to a nearby Walmart parking lot and had someone drive her to the hotel where she was later arrested.
During the trial, her mother testified drinking at least a fifth a day while pregnant with Brown. And on appeal, attorneys showed she suffered from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, "which affected her brain and showed up on medical brain scans."
The jury rejected Brown's claim of self-defense and found her guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder and especially aggravated robbery.
Dan Birman, a filmmaker, followed seven years of Brown's case. His 2011 PBS documentary, "Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story," covered the 2004 trial and detailed the abuse Brown endured. The documentary has recently re-aired.
"I don't know whether the celebrity involvement that's going on with the Cyntoia Brown story will help her case or not," Birman said in an interview. "What I do know is that celebrity following is raising the issue and is amplifying the discussion about sex abuse and sex trafficking."
After earning her G.E.D., in December, Brown received her associate's degree from a Lipscomb University in-jail program. She also mentors other female prisoners.
Tennessee law has now changed so that juveniles can no longer be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Brown would be treated as a victim of child human trafficking if her trial was to happen today instead of 2004.
Jeff Burks, the prosecutor during Brown's trial who now works in Georgia, said clemency supporters have it all wrong.
"There has been a group of people who have wanted to make Ms. Brown a victim and a celebrity since this happened," Burks wrote to Fox 17. "She was not 'trafficked' nor was she a 'sex slave.' It's not fair to the victim and his family that the other side of this case is so seldom heard."
Meanwhile, there is a moveon.org petition to free Brown, which has more than 400,000 signatures. And, many are tweeting ways to aid in Brown's clemency:
How you can help #FreeCyntoiaBrown:
Write a letter to the following:
The Honorable Bill Haslam
Governor of Tennessee
State Capitol, 1st Floor
600 Charlotte Ave
Nashville, TN 37243
Be SURE to request CLEMENCY.
I have provided an example. Thank you! pic.twitter.com/2DGSJe4RJo
— Gicola A. Lane (@GicolaLane) November 22, 2017