Sex trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown, who killed man who paid her for sex, is granted clemency

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By Janelle Griffith  with NBC News U.S. News
Image: Cyntoia Brown appears in court during her clemency hearing at the Te
Cyntoia Brown appears in court during her clemency hearing at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tennessee, May 23, 2018.   -   Copyright  Lacy Atkins AP

Cyntoia Brown, a Tennessee woman who was convicted as a teenager for killing a man while she said she was a sex trafficking victim, was granted clemency, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday.

Brown was granted a full commutation to parole. She will be eligible for release Aug. 7 on time served and will remain on parole for 10 years.

"This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case," Haslam said in a statement. "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."

Several dozen supporters of Brown attended a rally Saturday in Nashville, pleading for her clemency from Haslam, whose terms ends Jan. 19.

Brown, now 30, was tried as an adult in 2006 and imprisoned in Tennessee following her trial and life sentence for the death of Johnny Mitchell Allen, who paid Brown for sex.

Brown said she feared for her life and shot Allen, 43, while in bed with him because she believed he was reaching for a gun. Prosecutors argued the motive was robbery. Brown's supporters and lawyer have argued her sentence was too extreme, given her age and circumstances. At the time, Brown had run away from home and was living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a pimp known as "Kut Throat," who Brown said raped her and forced her into prostitution, according to court documents.

Last month, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Brown must serve 51 years in jail before she is eligible for release. The ruling sparked outrage online among Brown's supporters, including many celebrities who have called for her release.

More than half a million people have signed petitions for Brown's freedom online and a slew of celebrities including LeBron James, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, Meek Mill and Amy Schumer, have rallied for her release on social media with the hashtag #freecyntoiabrown. Rihanna was among the first celebrities to weigh in on Brown's case in a November 2017 Instagram post that helped highlight the need for criminal justice reform.

Her case inspired a 2011 documentary titled "Me Facing Life: The Cyntoia Brown Story," that thrust her into the spotlight.