Cyntoia Brown, whose murder conviction for killing a man who hired her for sex inspired a documentary and international support, walked free Wednesday after 15 years in prison.
“Early this morning offender Cyntoia Denise Brown was released from the Tennessee Prison for Women. Former Governor Bill Haslam commuted the sentence of Brown on January 7, 2019,” the Tennessee Department of Corrections said in a statement issued at 3:26 a.m.
Ahead of her release, Brown issued a statement of her own Monday thanking supporters.
“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,” she said. “I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation. I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me and with the Lord’s help I will make them as well as the rest of my supporters proud.”
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Brown is now 31. She will remain on parole for 10 years, on the condition she doesn’t violate any state or federal laws, holds a job, participates in regular counseling sessions, and maintains a regular commitment to community service.
In 2006, she was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery for killing a man who solicited her for sex when she was 16. The killing occurred after 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen picked Brown up and took her home.
During her trial, Brown said she feared for her life when she shot and killed Allen after a confrontation. She received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 51 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Brown shot Allen while he was sleeping and stole money. She countered their arguments by saying she killed Allen in self defense, adding that she was forced into prostitution by a pimp named “Kut Throat” during a difficult childhood. Supporters said she was a victim of sex trafficking.
After the 2011 PBS documentary Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story brought her case international attention, politicians and celebrities, including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, and Snoop Dogg called for her release. Just days before leaving office, Haslam granted her full clemency.
“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” he said at the time.
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Daniel H. Birman, the filmmaker behind the PBS doc is working on a new movie about Brown’s case. Last month Netflix announced it was picking up the untitled project, which will follow Brown’s incarceration and eventual release.
Brown is also set to release a book titled “Free Cyntoia” in October. She wrote the memoir during her 15 years in prison.