Celebrities are rallying behind a victim of sex trafficking who is spending life in prison for murder.
Cyntoia Brown was 16 years old when she killed John Mitchell Allen, a man who hired her as a sex worker.
On 6 August 2004, as Brown told the police, the 43-year-old drove her to his home and, after showing her his firearms, the two got into his bed together. At one point, according to court documents, Allen reached underneath the bed and Brown feared he was “gonna get a gun or is gonna do something to me.” She then pulled out a 40-calibre handgun from her purse and shot him, taking money and two guns from his house before leaving.
At the time, as her lawyers explained, Brown had run away from her home and was living in hotels in Nashville with a man known as “Kut Throat.” The abusive boyfriend started raping and selling her for sex. The day the killing occurred, she had been ordered by “Kut Throat” to go out and make money for him.
Despite her age, Cyntoia Brown was tried as an adult. Although she argued to have acted in self-defense, prosecutors deemed robbery the real motive behind the murder and she was later convicted of first-degree murder.
Now 29 years-old, the woman is serving a life sentence in a Nashville prison and will be eligible for parole when she turns 69.
Brown’s case captured public attention in 2011 when PBS aired the documentary Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story. It is unclear why celebrities have now started to renewing attention on the injustice of her story, calling insistently for her release in a social media onslaught.
Rihanna was the first one to push for Brown’s freedom. On 21 November, the singer shared an Instagram post which may have been prompted by a recent segment on the case broadcasted by Fox 17 News, a Nashville TV station.
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
“Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life!”, the caption read, spawning the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown.
Other A-listers, including Cara Delevigne, LeBron James and Snoop Dogg, followed suit. Kim Kardashian West has instructed top lawyer Shawn Holley, who was part of the legal team defending O.J. Simpson, to help to fight for the release of the sex-trafficking victim.
Charles Bone, Brown’s attorney, told NBC that the woman is “shocked and surprised” for the interest and support many high-profile individuals are showing.
Since Tennessee has enacted new laws stating that minors cannot be charged for prostitution and banned in 2012 mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles, Bone’s team has been fighting for a new trial. Under the actual legal system, “she would most likely today be charged with second-degree murder at most”, allowing her “to be qualified to be considered for parole.”
They have thus appealed her case, which will be heard before the 6th Court of Appeals in 2018.
Bone added information about Brown’s troubled background. Her biological mother testified that she used to drink up to a fifth of whiskey on a daily basis during her pregnancy; as a result, her daughter suffered organic brain damage due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, which can impair judgement skills and affect impulse control.
Her lawyer also revealed that, after receiving her G.E.D and obtaining an associate’s degree from Lipscomb University behind bars, Brown is now focusing on attaining a Bachelor’s Degree.
She has been described as a “model inmate.”