Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says Cyntoia Brown's sentence was "too harsh".

Cyntoia Brown, a Tennessee woman who has been incarcerated since the age of 16, has been granted clemency after spending 15 years in prison for killing a man who had paid her for sex in 2004. 

According to Brown, 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent, Johnny Allen picked her up in Nashville and agreed to pay her $150 for sex at his home in 2004. She subsequently shot him when he became violent and rolled over to the side of the bed. She said she feared he was attempting to get a gun so she shot him.

She was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving at least 51 years.

The prosecution agreed that it was an act of robbery on her behalf and a jury found her guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery.

The case was the subject of the 2011 documentary Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story.

The story attracted the attention of activists and human rights organisers who rallied in their hundreds against the indecency of the sentencing. 

Brown has been serving a life sentence since the incident and was tried as an adult despite being convicted as a minor, and one who had been sex trafficked. Juvenile sentencing laws in Tennessee have since been amended as a direct result of this case. 

In a statement, Brown reacted to the news: “With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people," she said. 

"My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”

Brown’s case has attracted attention from celebrities including Rihanna, Ashley Judd, Amy Schumer, and Kim Kardashian West (who last year advocated for the release of Alice Johnson, another woman serving life in prison) for the harsh sentence Brown received both as a teenager and as a victim of sex trafficking.

Brown’s case has helped to spark debate around the treatment of sex trafficking victims in the judicial system.

Governor Bill Haslam, who commuted Brown’s sentence to parole during his last days in office, said in a statement: “This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case.

"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.

"Transformation should be accompanied by hope.”

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