Cyntoia Brown must spend at least five decades in prison before she will be eligible for parole, a Tennessee Supreme Court Supreme Court ruled Thursday (Dec. 6). Brown, 30, has been behind bars for more than a decade for the 2004 murder of real-estate agent Johnny Allen.
Lawyers for Brown say that her life sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because she was a minor at the time of her arrest, despite being tried as an adult. Brown’s petition for post-conviction relief argues that her mandatory minimum sentence is unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama.
In an eight page decision, the state Supreme Court of judges unanimously concluded that a “defendant so convicted and sentenced to life in prison under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-202(c)(3)” on or after July 1, 1995, must serve “at least 51 years of imprisonment” prior to parole eligibility.
“The District Court denied relief, reasoning that Miller prohibits a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, and Ms. Brown received a life sentence, not a sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” the decision reads.
The state’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard Brown’s legal argument over the summer but turned the decision over to the higher court.
Brown was convicted in 2006 of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery. Prosecutors claimed that the then 16-year-old Brown shot and killed Allen, who drove her back to his home and paid her for sex, during a murder robbery. Brown maintains that she shot Allen in self-defense. The trial court merged Brown’s convictions, handing down a mandatory life sentence.
A survivor of child sex-trafficking, rape, and physical and mental abuse, Brown became widely known after the 2011 documentary, Me Facing Life: The Cyntoia Brown Story. The Memphis native is currently serving time at the Tennessee Prison for Women.