The fate of Cyntoia Brown, who is serving a life sentence for killing a man who picked her up for sex, is now in the hands of the Tennessee governor.
Brown, who was 16 at the time of the 2004 murder, says she killed her 43-year-old client in self-defense. Her story recently caught the attention of A-list celebrities and inspired the viral hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown, even though her life sentence began more than a decade ago.
At a clemency hearing Wednesday, the six-member Tennessee Board of Parole split on its recommendation in her case, said panel spokeswoman Melissa McDonald. Two board members voted to grant clemency, two voted to deny clemency and the others voted to make Brown, 30, eligible for parole after serving 25 years, she said.
“I can’t say that I deserve or I’m entitled to anything because I’m not,” Brown told the board during her testimony, according to CNN affiliate WKRN in Nashville.
“I wasn’t even entitled to this hearing. You showed me grace in giving me this hearing. I just pray that you will see through everything that’s been shown today, that I won’t disappoint you. I’m not going to let you down.”
The parole board’s recommendations will be sent in a confidential report to Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, who will make a final decision on whether to grant clemency, McDonald said.
“The governor and his legal counsel will thoroughly review Ms. Brown’s application and the Board of Parole’s recommendation after receiving it,” Haslam’s office said in a statement to CNN on Thursday. “The governor has broad executive clemency authority, and the Board’s recommendation is nonbinding.”
Prosecution said killing was not self-defense
Brown, who says she was forced into prostitution after a hard childhood, claims she was solicited for sex by Johnny Mitchell Allan of Nashville. According to Brown, Allan picked her up near a fast-food restaurant’s parking lot and drove her back to his house.
During her trial, Brown said she saw a gun cabinet in Allan’s room. She resisted his advances until he appeared to reach under the bed, Brown said, and she believed he was “gonna get a gun or is gonna do something to me.” That’s when she took a gun out of her purse and shot Allan, killing him.
Despite her age, Brown was tried as an adult and given a life sentence.
During the trial, prosecutors argued the killing was not in self-defense but motivated by robbery since Brown took Allan’s wallet after she shot him.
A detective reiterated this argument at Wednesday’s hearing, according to WKRN.
“Why did Cyntoia commit this murder? She didn’t commit it because Mr. Allan was some threat to her. She committed the murder to rob him,” said Detective Charles Robinson of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.
“The first chance she got, and that’s when he was in bed with her and when he was asleep,” he said. “She reached over to her handbag that was on the nightstand on her side of the bed and committed the murder so she could rob him.”
Widespread interest in Brown’s case reignited last year when celebrities such as Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West and Cara Delevingne shared an account of Brown’s story on social media.
“Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life,” Rihanna wrote in an Instagram caption.
CNN’s AJ Willingham, Tina Burnside and Doug Criss contributed to this report.