Cyntoia Brown clemency is result of media and celebrity influence, not justice

To all the would-be murderers out there, if you behave in prison, get your GED, and take some college courses, and get a few celebrities on your side, you too can be released.

That’s the gist of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s paltry statement on the commutation of Cyntoia Brown, who will be released only 15 years into a life sentence for the murder of Johnny Allen, the man who fed her and gave her a warm place to sleep, after Brown told Allen that she was homeless.

During the original investigation, Brown claimed Allen intimidated her, sexually assaulted her, and was reaching for a gun when she shot him. However, forensics investigators concluded that Allen’s hands were partially interlocked and tucked under his head – in a position like he was asleep, and the jury agreed. Brown also claimed that Allen offered her money for sex, but later admitted that they never engaged in sexual intercourse, and that the offer wasn’t made until she was already in his home, well after she agreed to go with him.

A 2011 documentary generated sympathy for Brown’s background – she was a delinquent who escaped from juvenile correctional facilities, had an abusive pimp who forced her into prostitution. In the meantime, she got her GED, a two-year associate’s degree, and started on her bachelor’s degree through extended education classes. In 2017, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, LeBron James, and others, promoted her retrial and release, beginning a social media campaign to sign petitions that she be freed. That campaign repeatedly stressed Brown’s discredited claims. Several major news outlets joined the push, including Time, the Washington Post, and NBC.

Gov. Haslam issued clemency “after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case.” Tragic? Yes. Complex? No. Brown took advantage of Allen’s hospitality and murdered him in his sleep for financial gain. Those are the jury-found facts. Appeals courts have repeatedly affirmed the case, denying her parole until she’s served 51 years of her sentence.

How we treat juvenile offenders is a topic of serious discussion. But let’s never forget that Brown deceived Johnny Allen into helping her, murdered him in his sleep, pilfered his property, and then attempted to excuse her conduct in self-contradictory and disprovable ways. The prosecutor from her case recently remarked that Brown “wasn’t just somebody who made one mistake. She was a very dangerous person. The choices she made were hers.” In a nation where we’re taught to live with the consequences of our conscious decisions, my best bet is that this particular act of clemency is based on the influence of social media and celebrity pressure, and not out of a desire to change our criminal justice system.

Andrew Schultz is an attorney in Minot. He can be reached at 852-5513, or at