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Home Cover Page Cyntoia Brown, sentenced to life at 16, released from prison.

Cyntoia Brown, sentenced to life at 16, released from prison.

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Cyntoia Brown, sentenced to life at 16, released from prison.

Here’s what you need to know

After leaving office earlier this year, former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam went to visit Cyntoia Brown in prison: “I just wanted to go meet her as a person.” Larry McCormack, lmccormack@tennessean.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Cyntoia Brown was released from a Tennessee prison on Wednesday after serving 15 years of a life sentence for the 2004 murder of a Nashville real estate agent.

Brown was released from the Tennessee Prison for Women on parole, according to the state’s Department of Corrections.

She was 16 at the time of her crime. Earlier this year, former Gov. Bill Haslam took the rare step of commuting her sentence, paving the way for her release.

The case garnered national attention and drew support from high-profile celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian-West.

In the years leading to her release, Brown’s complicated story also has served to rally lawmakers, juvenile justice reformers and critics of Tennessee’s unusually harsh life sentences for teens, those working to expose child sex trafficking and others highlighting racial inequities in the justice system.

Who is Cyntoia Brown?

Brown, who is African American and now 31, has been institutionalized for more than half her life. She was sentenced to life in prison in the shooting death of 43-year-old Johnny Allen.

Brown said she was sent by her then-24-year-old boyfriend and pimp to make money. According to Brown, Allen picked her up at a Nashville Sonic restaurant, bought her food and then took her to his home.

She was tried as an adult, convicted of first-degree murder and robbery and sentenced to life in prison — state law dictated that she would not be eligible for parole for at least 51 years.

What is clemency?

Then-Gov. Haslam intervened in Brown’s case in January near the end of his term, using his exclusive power to grant an executive clemency.

Executive clemency in Tennessee is “an act of mercy or leniency providing relief from certain consequence of a criminal conviction,” according to the state’s Executive Clemency Unit.

Brown’s sentence was commuted, and a lesser sentence was substituted for the mandated 51 years of her original sentence.

Analysis: Cyntoia Brown, R. Kelly and the refusal to recognize black and brown female victims

In a recent interview with the USA TODAY Network, Haslam said his decision to grant Brown freedom was rooted in the state’s evolving approach to juvenile justice, a deeper understanding of Brown’s troubled background and her remarkable transformation behind bars.

“She, in her own words, did something horrible. She made a really bad decision as a very young woman,” Haslam said last week. But he pointed to “mitigating factors,” primarily her forced involvement in prostitution, that laid the groundwork for his decision.

“We want to believe that incarceration works,” Haslam said.

Does this mean Cyntoia Brown is walking free?

As part of the terms of her release, Brown will stay on parole for 10 years. The Tennessee Department of Correction reported she has worked with counselors to develop a re-entry plan.

The precise details of the plan have not been released, but she will be required to participate in regular counseling sessions and to perform at least 50 hours of community service, including working with at-risk youth. She also will be required to get a job.

What’s next for Cyntoia Brown?

In a statement released by her attorney, Brown thanked supporters and said she would be using her experience to help abused women and girls.

“While first giving honor to God who made all of this possible, I would also like to thank my many supporters who have spoken on my behalf and prayed for me,” Brown said  just days before her release.

“I’m blessed to have a very supportive family and friends to support me in the days to come. I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation.”