Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says his administration has begun gathering information on a Nashville woman whose murder conviction has become a cause célèbre. But a decision on whether to grant her clemency is unlikely to come until well into next year.
Cyntoia Brown was convicted more than a decade ago for the murder of a Nashville man. Advocates for Brown say she was caught up in a so-called ”
sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline.” At 16 years old at the time of the crime, Brown says she was the victim of sex trafficking.
She maintains that she killed because she feared for her life. Now 29 years old, Brown has been held up as an example of how the justice system often harshly
punishes children forced into prostitution or other crimes.
In recent weeks, high-profile celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West and Snoop Dogg have called for Brown’s life sentence to be overturned. And over the weekend, another supporter, the human rights organization Rights4Girls, told NPR’s
Weekend Edition they’re turning to Tennessee’s governor to win Brown’s release.
But Haslam says he hasn’t yet seen a formal clemency appeal. And once it arrives, it’ll take time before he acts on it.
“I would be really surprised by the end of the year,” he says. “I think we’re just starting to gather the information.”
In fact, Haslam hasn’t released anyone from prison since taking office in 2011. That’s despite facing clemency appeals with broad popular support, including Brown’s case and that of
Lawrence McKinney, a Memphis man who’s been out of prison since 2009 due to DNA evidence but is yet to be exonerated.
Following a precedent set by his predecessors, Haslam is not likely to rule on any such cases until the end of his second term.