NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — UPDATE:
A child sex slave in Nashville is behind bars for killing the man who used her.
Cyntoia Brown was physically, sexually and verbally abused. The Department of Corrections declined Fox 17 News' request to interview her, but Filmmaker Dan Birman shared video from his seven years documenting Cyntoia Brown's case.
In the film, Brown explains her abuse and how it made her paranoid.
Brown is convicted of murder for killing a Nashville realtor who'd bought her for sex.
“She was picked up by a 43 year old man.” Birman said. “Cyntoia was 16 years old.”
Birman's documentary gave voice to her childhood horror.
“We started the conversation, this is a young girl who's at the tail end of three generations of violence against women,” Birman said.
Cyntoia, her grandmother, and mother were all raped.
“She had no chance,” Birman added.
In her 2004 trial, Brown explains how there was always a gun being pointed at her. She was being hit, choked and dragged. Derri Smith, the Founder of End Slavery TN, shares the perspective.
“She did kill someone, she deeply regrets it, but she was a child and she was being exploited,” Smith said.
Also in her trial, Brown testified she was fearful of the man, 'Mr. Allen,' who’d picked her up.
“He was a sharp shooter in the Army. I'm sitting here thinking if he does something, what am I going to do?” - Cyntonia
Further affecting impulse control, her mother testified drinking at least a fifth a day while pregnant. On appeal, her attorneys were able to show she suffered from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder which affected her brain and showed up on medical brain scans.
“She was being sex trafficked. The pimp's name was Kutthroat.” - Kathryn Sinback, Davidson Co. Juvenile Court Administrator
The jury sentenced Brown under the law at the time giving her life in prison. She’d only be eligible for parole is after serving 51 years. She would be 67.
Birman's film on Cyntoia helped change Tennessee law for children like her in 2011. Now, anyone 18 or younger can't even be charged with prostitution.
“[There's] no such thing as a child prostitute or a teen prostitute, I think we've had to have a cultural mind shift,” Smith said.
If Brown's case were heard today, the court would treat her as a child human trafficking victim.
Though Birman's not involved, there are now plenty who want her set free. It’s a very dedicated group of people working on a clemency campaign for Cyntoia. They want the Governor and the Parole Board to really look at the unique factors of her case. Unique factors like the work she's done behind bars for years, long before anyone floated the idea of clemency.
Fox 17 was provided Cyntonia's graduation pictures from Lipscomb University for an Associates Degree. She's now working on her Bachelors while working side by side with the courts and the Juvenile Justice system as an unpaid consultant. She’s a friend of the system.
“I myself can create opportunities to help people [behind bars],” Brown said.
Brown is hoping for a second chance.
"She has used her experience to be able to make things better, juvenile justice, human trafficking and safety and security for youth and so I think what she has to offer is invaluable," Sickback said.
There’s a young woman sitting in a prison in Nashville for life, and there’s mounting pressure to set her free.
In 2017, Cyntoia Brown would be classified a sex slave. She was a little child manipulated and threatened, who didn’t stand a chance against the men who used her.
However, that wasn’t the case back in 2004 when Brown got arrested. The laws, which she later helped change, were completely different back then.
Fox 17 News explored what her case would be like if she were tried today under new laws that classify teen girls as victims of sex trafficking and manipulation rather than labeling them as teen prostitutes.