Cyntoia Brown case hits home in Memphis

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawyers and community leaders involved in Cyntoia Brown's case held a press conference Monday morning to celebrate Gov. Bill Haslam's decision to commute the 30-year-old woman's sentence.

They said Brown was emotional getting the news.

"She just lit up with a joy I’ve never seen before," one woman said.

It’s a new beginning for a woman who’s been behind bars since she was 16.

Brown had a tough childhood; at a young age, she was forced into prostitution. At that time, a man picked her up and made her come home with him for sex. During the act, she said he reached for a gun, so before he could get it, she shot and killed him.

At age 16, she was tried as an adult, convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to at least 51 years in prison.

“Her circumstances were tragic. We can’t forget, it led to tragic consequences. But today is a moment in Nashville where we can have a sense of redemption,” Mayor David Briley of Nashville said.

Brown is now 30 years old. She earned an associate degree in prison and is now getting the news that Gov. Haslam has decided to let her walk free in August.

“I’m very thankful to Governor Haslam for showing true courage, empathy, mercy and giving us all hope in the face of redemption," state Sen.-elect Raumesh Akbari said.

“Cyntoia’s case allows us to raise this issue that there is serious sex trafficking trade in Tennessee that needs to be addressed and it’s impacting poor black women especially," Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer said.

Sawyer said it teaches compassion for kids who grow up in challenging circumstances and later commit crimes and hits home with a lot of her own work.

“Cyntoia could’ve been from Memphis ... the facts of her case, the poverty she grew up in. So it resonates with the work and the change were trying to make,” Sawyer said.

Akbari also knows it hits home in the wrong way when it comes to sentencing. She’s hoping to lead the legislature to change mandatory sentencing laws so no child will ever have to serve such a long time.

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