Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted full clemency to Cyntoia Brown, an alleged sex trafficking victim serving a life sentence for the 2004 murder of a man who picked her up and took her to his home.
After serving 15 years in prison, Brown will be released Aug. 7 and will remain on supervised parole for 10 years, Haslam (R) announced Monday, calling it a “tragic and complex case.”
Brown, whose case drew national attention and support from celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, was 16 years old when she committed the crime in what she described as an act of self-defense.
The life sentence meant she would not have been eligible for parole until she was in her late 60s, which Haslam said was “too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.”
“Transformation should be accompanied by hope,” Haslam said.
In a statement read by her attorneys at a news conference Monday, Brown thanked the governor for his “act of mercy in giving me a second chance.”
“I am thankful for all the support, prayers and encouragement I have received,” Brown said. “We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings.”
Placed for adoption by a mother who abused alcohol, Brown had run away from her adoptive parents’ home in the months before the murder, according to court documents. The 16-year-old was living with an abusive boyfriend nicknamed “Cut Throat” who she said sexually assaulted her and forced her into prostitution.
Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent, was a stranger to Brown when he picked her up in his truck at a Sonic Drive-In and solicited her for sex, taking her to his home, Brown told authorities.
Brown admitted to shooting Allen in the back of the head while they were in his bed, after she thought she saw him pulling out a gun. In 2006, Brown was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery and sentenced to life in prison.
Brown’s story spread widely in the fall of 2017 amid the #MeToo movement. Supporters rallied around her case with the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown, calling it an example of unjust incarceration of children and victims of sex trafficking, particularly young women of color. Kardashian highlighted the case to President Trump in a meeting in May.
Attorneys working on behalf of Brown also petitioned the state’s parole board to commute her sentence, citing her experiences as a sex trafficking victim and adversities during her childhood. Experts had testified in court proceedings that Brown may have suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome in utero, affecting her mental state at the time of the crime.
Brown’s attorneys also appealed her conviction and sentence with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. More than a dozen juvenile justice advocacy groups filed briefs in support of Brown, pointing to a 2012 Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama that barred sentences of mandatory life without parole for juveniles.
The Supreme Court in 2016 ruled that inmates who were already sentenced as teenagers to mandatory life imprisonment for murder must have a chance to argue that they should be released from prison.
The Tennessee Board of Parole recently issued a recommendation in favor of commuting Brown’s sentence, said the governor, who issued the commutation in his final days in office.
J. Houston Gordon, one of the lawyers on Brown’s case, said the 30-year-old’s case should be seen as a “national awakening” to change laws that allow children to be placed in adult prisons.
“Her story,” Gordon said in the news conference, “should be a catalyst for a lot of others, thousands of other juveniles.”
The news of Brown’s clemency Monday drew praise from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, as well as Hollywood actors including Viola Davis and Jada Pinkett Smith.
“We are relieved to learn that Cyntoia Brown’s sentence has been commuted — but we also know that nothing will rewind her years of incarceration,” the National Women’s Law Center wrote on Twitter. “Black girls deserve better.”
While in prison, Brown has earned her GED and an associate degree with a 4.0 grade-point average, according to a statement from Haslam. She has one course left to complete her bachelor’s degree, which she expects to finish in May.
“With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people,” Brown said. “My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”
9-year-old genius to graduate university
(CNN) – A child prodigy from Belgium is on course to gain a bachelor’s degree at the tender age of 9.
Laurent Simons is studying electrical engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) — a tough course even for students of an average graduate age.
Described by staff as “simply extraordinary,” Laurent is on course to finish his degree in December.
He then plans to embark on a PhD program in electrical engineering while also studying for a medicine degree, his father told CNN.
His parents, Lydia and Alexander Simons, said they thought Laurent’s grandparents were exaggerating when they said he had a gift, but his teachers soon concurred.
“They noticed something very special about Laurent,” said Lydia.
Laurent was given test after test as teachers tried to work out the extent of his talents. “They told us he is like a sponge,” said Alexander.
While Laurent comes from a family of doctors, his parents have so far not received any explanation as to why their child prodigy is capable of learning so quickly.
But Lydia has her own theory.
“I ate a lot of fish during the pregnancy,” she joked.
The TUE has allowed Laurent to complete his course faster than other students.
“That is not unusual,” said Sjoerd Hulshof, education director of the TUE bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, in a statement.
“Special students that have good reasons for doing so can arrange an adjusted schedule. In much the same way we help students who participate in top sport.”
Hulshof said Laurent is “simply extraordinary” and praised the youngster.
“Laurent is the fastest student we have ever had here,” he said. “Not only is he hyper intelligent but also a very sympathetic boy.”
Laurent told CNN his favorite subject is electrical engineering and he’s also “going to study a bit of medicine.”
His progress has not gone unnoticed and he is already being sought out by prestigious universities around the world, although Laurent’s family wouldn’t be drawn on naming which of them he is considering for his PhD.
“The absorption of information is no problem for Laurent,” said his father.
“I think the focus will be on research and applying the knowledge to discover new things.”
While Laurent is evidently able to learn faster than most, his parents are being careful to let him enjoy himself too.
“We don’t want him to get too serious. He does whatever he likes,” said Alexander. “We need to find a balance between being a child and his talents.”
Laurent said he enjoys playing with his dog Sammy and playing on his phone, like many young people.
However, unlike most 9-year-olds, he has already worked out what he wants to do with his life: develop artificial organs.
In the meantime, Laurent has to finish his bachelor’s degree and choose which academic institution will play host to the next stage in his remarkable journey.
Before that, he plans on taking a vacation to Japan for an undoubtedly well-deserved break.
New award to honor arts and activism named after Lena Horne
Gang members slam BMW into rival and his 8-year-old son in Harlem
Two gangbangers aimed their BMW like a missile at a father and his 8-year-old son on a Harlem sidewalk in a horrifying incident captured by video distributed by police Thursday.
The BMW — driven by a man police believe is a member of the Gorilla Stone Bloods Gang — was zeroed in on the father, a rival gang member, said cops.
Around 3:45 p.m. Nov. 6, the boy and his father were walking on W. 112th St. by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. when the BMW jumped the sidewalk and slammed into them both, said cops.
🚨WANTED for ASSAULT: on 11/6 at approx 3:43 PM in front of 128 West 112th St in Manhattan, a 32 yr old male was walking with his 8 yr old son when a white BMW jumped the curb & hit the father & son. The driver then got out and slashed the father. Call @NYPDTips with any info. pic.twitter.com/cwd79rcM4c
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) November 15, 2019
Father and son were both knocked through a gate.
The BMW driver then backed up — and its driver and passenger, also believed to be a gang member, jumped out of the car and ran toward the father and the son.
One of the attackers slashed the father, identified by sources as 32-year-old Brian McIntosh, who’s served prison time for robbery and bail jumping.
McIntosh and his son went to Harlem Hospital. Miraculously, the boy escaped serious harm.
McIntosh was so adamant about refusing to help police catch his attackers that the young boy’s mother had to file a police report alleging he was the victim of a crime, police sources said.
Cops released video of the attack, and ask anyone with information about the suspects to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS.
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