|Cyntoia Brown, pictured above, has served 9 years out of a life sentence she received at age 16. Today, she is 25 years old.|
In 2006, 16-year-old Cyntoia Brown, who is now 25 years old, was sentenced to life in prison for a murder she committed as a juvenile. Throughout her childhood and teenage years she suffered a tremendous amount of abuse by a plethora of people from different aisles in her life; something which undoubtedly left her with a great deal of mental injury that is unlikely to be dealt with in a proper manner within the confines of a prison. It was this same psychological damage--of which its impacts on her brain and the relationships she formed with others she had no control over--combined with a drug-affected state of mind that eventually resulted in the impulsive actions that led to the death of Johnny Allen.
Born from a family with a history of mental illnesses and suicides, Cyntoia was adopted as an infant. Her biological mother worked as a prostitute to fund a drug habit, eventually ending up in jail. During her incarceration she often wrote Cyntoia, decorating her envelopes with colorful artwork and drawings of Disney characters; letters which her daughter never knew existed until she one day found them by chance, hidden among her adoptive mother's belongings. At the age of 13, Cyntoia ran away from her new home--which came with its own issues, including an abusive, alcoholic stepfather--by this time already exhibiting emotional problems and unpredictable behavior. As a teenager, she often engaged in fights with other students at school and made several trips to juvenile facilities. Finding herself attracted to older men, by the time she was sixteen she was living with 24-year-old drug dealer and armed robber Garion McGlothen, better known as Cut-throat, who began to beat her and force her into prostitution to support him financially after the brief enjoyable period of their relationship came to an end. Already a rape survivor before she met McGlothen, he regularly forced her into sexual intercourse with himself as well as others, often at gunpoint, and she once spoke of a violent episode during which he choked her until she passed out. "He would explain to me that some people were born whores, and that I was one, and I was a slut, and nobody'd want me but him, and the best thing I could do was just learn to be a good whore," she testified at a hearing last year. About seven months following her booking for the murder of Johnny Allen, she discovered McGlothen was fatally shot in a drug conflict.
In 2004, on a night in which McGlothen sent her out to bring him back money, Cyntoia was solicited for sex by 43-year-old real estate agent Johnny Allen, who one witness at Cyntoia's trial alleged had raped her in the past. Knowing the girl was a minor, Allen insisted on taking Cyntoia to his residence, where he bragged to her about his Army-backed marksmanship expertise and showed off his gun collection. Cyntoia, who remained high at the time from days of snorting cocaine, maintains that she refused his sexual advances, telling him she was tired and wanted to get some rest; upon which they moved to his bed. While she attempted to fall asleep, Allen would come in and out of the room multiple times, eventually undressing and laying down next to her naked. He began to make advances once more, which she refused again. This time, Cyntoia stated, he rolled over and, fearing he was reaching for a weapon to kill her--a presumption which was undoubtedly influenced by the drugs in her system--she grabbed the gun McGlothen had given her for protection and shot Allen. Following his death, scared to return to McGlothen empty-handed, she took from Allen's home a rifle and shotgun he had shown her earlier and fled the scene in his truck.
The next day, unsure whether Allen was alive or dead and failing to see any reports on the news of a murder, she eventually called 911 to inform them of his address, stating that a homicide had occurred there. But first, she got a ride from Richard Reed--whom she knew from her stay at a juvenile facility--to the Walmart where she had ditched Allen's truck, telling Reed that she would share the $50,000 she had stolen if he accompanied her back to the house; this money, however, nonexistent. After returning to Allen's truck and using his phone to call the residence--with no answer--Cyntoia returned home and, still not seeing anything on the news, dialed 911. She stated later that she felt uncomfortable with the idea of Allen's body being left alone at his house. When Reed and his roommate, Sam Humphrey, saw news reports on TV of the homicide the following night, they decided it would be safest to leave their residence until the day after. Humphrey later pointed detectives to the room where McGlothen and Cyntoia were staying. After law enforcement showed up and pinned McGlothen to the ground upon answering the door, a hysterical Cyntoia rushed outside and agreed to tell them everything, stressing that McGlothen had no involvement with the crime.
In 2006, she was tried in court as an adult and given the life sentence for committing first degree murder. She will not be eligible for parole until she is 67.
|Cyntoia Brown reacts during a 2012 hearing in Nashville, Tennessee.|
In the wake of the shameful outcome of the Trayvon Martin case, one wonders how a frightened teenager--abused and raped throughout her life and under the influence of drugs at the time of the murder--is made into a cold-blooded killer, while an adult man such as George Zimmerman, who had a history of domestic violence and was twice the size of the unarmed youth whose life he took, is made into the victim. Again, the question of race arises, and understandably so: if Cyntoia would have been a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl, would she still have received the maximum sentence for a mistake she made as a child?
As of 2012, about 2,500 inmates are serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. At least 79 were 14 years old or younger at the time.
Click here to sign a petition to help bring justice to Cyntoia's case.
Watch a detailed documentary on her story here.