Cyntoia Brown-Long was just 16-years-old when, fearing for her life, she murdered a Tennessee real estate agent who had paid and taken her to his home to have sex with. Forced into prostitution by a pimp who beat her and raped her repeatedly, she should have been considered a sex-trafficking victim. Instead, she was tried as an adult, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
While she was raised in a loving home after she was given up by her crack cocaine-addicted biological mother, her troubles with the law started at a young age. She spent time with Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services between April 2001 and September 2003 after committing “crimes against a person, and crimes against property,” but fled the facilities several times.
It was during one of those escapes that she found herself in Nashville and in the company of 24-year-old Garion L. McGlothen, who went by the street name ‘Kut-Throat,’ and who started pimping her out from an InTown Suites hotel. In one of her interviews after her arrest, she said her activities at the time consisted of doing drugs and having sex with McGlothen, who would then force her out into the street so she could earn money for him as a prostitute.
On the night of August 6, 2004, she met 43-year-old Johnny Allen in the parking lot of a Sonic Drive-In on Murfreesboro Road, and who reportedly asked her if she was hungry and “up for any action.”
Brown answered in the affirmative and accepted his offer to go to his house, where he said he lived alone. At some point during the night, she used her .40-caliber handgun and shot him in the back of the head apparently when he was sleeping. A trail of evidence meant it didn’t take long for the authorities to track and arrest the teen for the murder.
During a subsequent hearing to determine if she could be tried as an adult, Cyntoia did not deny shooting and killing Allen. Instead, she insisted that she had done so because she feared for her life and that it was an act of self-defense.
She testified that, while she was initially willing to go to his home, he repeatedly brought up his service in the army and his affinity for guns. She said that, when they got to his residence, he even showed off some of his weapons to her, and that it made her very uncomfortable.
Cyntoia claimed that it was at that point that she started worrying about the worst because no one, not even her mother, knew she was at his house, and he could easily have killed her. She said she made up an excuse to go to bed so she could escape when he was asleep.
But that plan went awry. She said while they were lying in bed, Allen repeatedly tried to make sexual advances despite her indicating she no longer wanted to, and that he appeared to get angry at her rejection. It was then that she reached for her gun and shot him, she told Metro Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green, who was tasked with deciding whether Cyntoia’s crimes were heinous enough to be tried in the adult justice system.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, argued that the self-defense argument did not hold water because, after shooting Allen, Cyntoia had stolen $172 from his wallet, two of his firearms, and then fled the scene in his truck. Green ultimately ruled in the prosecution’s favor, sending the case to an adult court where a jury would decide if the teen was guilty of first-degree murder, felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, and a slew of other charges.
Unfortunately for Cyntoia, the story did not play out any differently. The jury convicted her, with the minimum sentence for a teen convicted of first-degree murder — 60 years with the possibility of parole after 51 years — leaving her with the prospect of not seeing the outside world again until she was 67.
While her lawyers continued to fight for her, it looked increasingly unlikely that she would get out before completing the entirety of her sentence, especially after their request for a new trial was denied even in the face of new evidence that indicated she deserved clemency.
All that changed in November 2017, when her case went viral following a Fox News report which argued a recent change in Tennessee law meant that, if the shooting had taken place then, she would be treated not as a perpetrator, but as a sex-trafficking victim.
Her cause was subsequently championed by the likes of Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, T.I., Snoop Dogg, and LeBron James, and the renewed publicity saw her earn a clemency hearing in front of the Tennessee Board of Parole, something only two percent of applicants avail.
At the hearing, several witnesses from her prison, including employees, as well as the former prosecutor who argued for her incarceration, testified on her behalf.
The favorable reviews, as well as intense media support, eventually saw then-Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam grant her clemency and commute her sentence of life in prison to an August 7, 2019 release, plus 10 years of supervised parole.
Cyntoia’s story will be chronicled in Netflix documentary ‘Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story,’ which will air on the streaming platform on April 29.
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