It’s a story that rocked the nation when then 16-year-old Cyntoia Brown was arrested and charged with homicide, aggravated robbery, handgun possession and criminal possession following the shooting death of Johnny Mitchell Allen. Since that date, Brown has maintained her actions were self-defense.
Running away from home at the age of 16, Brown found herself living with Garion McGlothen Jarvis, known as Kut-Throat. During that time, Jarvis took advantage of the young woman, reportedly threatening her, beating her, raping her and forcing her into a life of sex-trafficking. It is this lifestyle that Brown reported led to the events of August 5, 2004.
The exact events on the night in question will always be up for debate as we can only hear one side of the story. According to Brown, she met Johnny Mitchell Allen, a 43-year-old United States Army veteran and real estate broker in a Sonic Drive-In parking lot. At the time, Allen had inquired whether she was hungry and if she was homeless, prompting an answer on both accounts. He offered to buy her dinner, taking her to his home.
Brown stated that at one point when she was laying down, Allen was standing over her, intimidating her. She described a situation in which she was highly fearful, and at a point where she believed that he was reaching for his own firearm, she shot him with her own .40-caliber handgun in the back of the head. Investigators were able to confirm that following the shooting, she left his home in his Ford F-150, taking with her two of his firearms and his wallet.
The crime prompted great debate. Those who sided with Brown saw her as a victim, reacting to an impossible situation. Others, however, took a firm stance that she had gone home with Allen with the intent of robbing him. In fact, prosecutors made the case that Allen was asleep at the time he was shot based on the position of his body. Ultimately, she was tried as an adult despite being under the age of 18, found guilty and sentenced to 51 years to life in prison.
In recent years, Brown’s case has caught the attention not only of advocacy groups but also a large number of celebrities including Kim Kardashian West, Ashley Judd, and Rihanna. While her case may have continued to fly under the radar, this high-profile attention shed a spotlight on the injustice of such an extreme sentence on a juvenile in an incredibly toxic situation.
“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life,” stated Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam in a statement. In what would be one of Haslam’s final acts as governor, he granted Brown clemency. While she is not able to leave prison immediately, she will be released on August 7, 15 years to the date that she was first arrested, remaining under parole supervision for 10 years.
In a statement released by her legal team, Cyntoia Brown thanked the governor for his decision, stating: “Thank you, Gov. Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me. I am thankful for all the support, prayers and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without him. Let today be a testament to His saving grace… With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”