Lawyers for Cyntoia Brown, a sex trafficking victim fighting to have her life sentence overturned, believe that she is not likely to survive a potentially decades-long wait for her next parole hearing. Brown, now 29, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life at the age of 16.
In a petition filed Monday (Jan. 8), the attorneys argue that the sentence infringes on Brown’s constitutional rights, and that she did not have the mental capacity at the time of the crime, to warrant such harsh sentencing.
“This was a seriously mentally impaired girl, subject to the immaturity and impulsiveness of all juveniles but to a much greater degree, who had been abandoned by her parents and whose only refuge was a pimp who sexually and physically abused her,” the appeal states, according to The Tennessean.
Brown is currently serving time at the Tennessee Prison for Women. She was tried as an adult for the murder of Johnny Allen, a real estate agent who paid to have sex with the then teenager. Prior to her conviction, Brown was a runaway forced into prostitution. She survived being drugged and repeatedly sexually and physical assaulted by several men, including her boyfriend, who was also her pimp.
In the weeks before her fatal encounter with Allen, Brown had been raped several times. She maintains that she killed Allen in self-defense.
Brown’s appeal goes on to cite Miller v. Alabama, a 2012 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences (without the possibility of parole) are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. The argument was previously shot down because Brown didn’t get life without parole.
However, the lawyers also note that Brown suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and is likely to die before she is eligible for parole. Though Brown was adopted as a toddler, she contracted the disorder — which can cause brain damage — because her biological mother drank while she was pregnant.
All of Brown’s previous appeals have been denied. She will be eligible for parole after serving 51 years.
“The half-century wait before Cyntoia Brown has a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate her ‘maturity and rehabilitation’ is insufficient to satisfy the minimum constitutional requirement mandated by the Supreme Court,” the appeal reportedly states.
Brown’s story became widely known after it went viral last year, catching the attention of Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and more who called for her release. Kardashian reportedly even hired a legal team to work on getting her released.
Brown also inspired, Preston Shipp, the former prosecutor who helped keep her behind bars, to quit his job. Shipp, a onetime litigator for the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, taught a free class at the Tennessee Women’s Prison where he met and befriended Brown. He was surprised to later find out that he had prosecuted her case, and is now an advocate for criminal justice reform.