Tennessee woman Cyntoia Brown was released from prison Wednesday after her sentence for murder was commuted. Her case became a cause célèbre because she was tried as an adult at age 16 after being the victim of sex trafficking. One person who is glad she’s getting out of prison is the former prosecutor who argued against her on appeal.
“I’m thrilled for her,” Preston Shipp told Nashville’s WTVF-TV in a Tuesday report.
He had described himself as a “cog” in the criminal justice wheel.
“It was another first-degree murder case where somebody got a 51-year sentence,” said Shipp, who stopped being a prosecutor in 2008. “And I didn’t think about it on a much deeper level than that.”
Brown’s conviction for the 2004 murder garnered the attention of both Kim Kardashian and singer Rihanna. According to court records, Brown testified to running away from home and falling in with a man named “Kut Throat.” At first, he was nice to her, but he became verbally and physically abusive, sexually assaulted her, forced her into prostitution, and made her give him the money she earned, she said. The abuse was so bad that at one incident, he almost killed her by choking her, she said.
Brown was convicted for killing Johnny Allen, 43. She said he brought her home — where things escalated — so she killed him with a gun Kut Throat gave her for self defense. She insisted she feared for her life after Allen had been acting strange and spoke about his guns.
“We are at a loss for words,” Allen’s family told WTVF-TV about Brown’s release from prison. “We feel like the judicial system has failed again for victims everywhere,” adding, “our hearts are broken because we feel like Johnny never got to defend himself. We never got to be a voice for him.”
Prosecutors originally argued that the homicide was a fatal robbery. Brown was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 51 years, but critics lambasted the punishment largely in part because of the defendant’s age and because she was a victim of sex trafficking.
Here are some responses to her release:
15 years too late but a good day. Bless you, Cyntoia Brown. https://t.co/jQ6uTyBeL5
— Charlotte Clymer🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) August 7, 2019
Happy release day Cyntoia Brown!!!
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 7, 2019
Thank you. I appreciate it. It’s been a collective effort over many years. I started raising awareness about her case 10 years ago. Her team started even earlier than that. I’m glad to know she’s out of prison today. I know she’s so relieved. https://t.co/xrxkPMu7mT
— #EndCarceralFeminism (@prisonculture) August 7, 2019
Shipp, the formerly-adverse appeals lawyer, was one of the people who spoke out for Brown to be released from prison and even appeared with her at her 2018 clemency hearing. They had become friends after he taught one of her prison college classes, he said in a USA Today op-ed in January after she got clemency. Now he’s working to help other people like Cyntoia Brown.
Over the years, I have learned that Cyntoia, though she is an extraordinary person, is not unique . . . There are approximately 100 other former juvenile offenders in Tennessee who, like Cyntoia, are serving the 51-year life sentence. And across the nation, thousands of people are serving sentences that are decades long for crimes committed while they were children. Unlike Cyntoia, these largely forgotten people have not received a celebrity endorsement. Their names have not become hashtags. They are the hidden casualties of the tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s that drastically increased the sentences for a host of violent crimes and played on unfounded fears of ‘superpredators’ to justify essentially sentencing children to die behind bars.
Now 31, Brown will be out on parole.
In preparation for her release, Ms. Brown met with counselors at the facility to design a reentry plan. This plan includes an updated risk/needs assessment, placement in the transition center, and continuing her current course of study through the Lipscomb University LIFE Program. As part of the department’s commitment to seamless supervision, the re-entry plan that was developed will be shared with the supervising officers in the community. Ms. Brown will be supervised according to the evidence-based standards of supervision. These standards determine how often an offender meets with their officer and what additional programs they may need.
Her attorneys said she wants privacy and time to transition to life outside prison before she speaks publicly, according to The Associated Press.
[Screengrab via WTVF-TV/NewsChannel 5.]