Interest in Cyntoia Brown's case was reignited late last year, when celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna shared a viral post about her case

By Chris Harris
May 24, 2018 04:07 PM
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A 30-year-old woman who has spent nearly half of her life in prison for the 2004 murder of a man who solicited her for sex when she was a teenage human trafficking victim delivered a plea for clemency Wednesday before the Tennessee Board of Parole.

“I always hear people say if I could go back if I could change things,” said Cyntoia Brown, who has never denied fatally shooting Johnny Mitchell Allen, 43, when she was 16 inside a Nashville hotel. “When you really realize you’ve done something you can’t undo, it stays with you, and it stayed with me this whole time.”

Brown has long maintained she was forced to prostitute by a boyfriend who essentially became the underage girl’s pimp, taking the money that she would make.

She claimed she shot Allen in self-defense because she allegedly saw him reach for his gun.

Last November, interest in her case was reignited when celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Rihanna shared a viral post about her controversial first-degree murder conviction, calling on authorities to release her.

Months ago, Brown’s attorneys filed an appeal in federal court challenging her sentence.

Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean/USA TODAY NETWORK

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At the conclusion of her clemency hearing on Wednesday, two board members voted to release her while two others voted to deny her request, according to Tennessee Board of Parole spokeswoman Melissa McDonald.

The remaining two members suggested her sentence should be significantly shortened to make her parole eligible in 2029, after Brown she has served 25 years, McDonald tells PEOPLE, adding the decision to free Brown ultimately rests with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.

The Tennessee Board of Parole’s recommendations will be forwarded to Haslam, but McDonald says the board’s vote is non-binding.

It remains unclear how Haslam feels about the case.

During the hearing, Brown told the judge she was sorry for killing Allen, a real estate agent. Allen’s family wants Brown to serve out her original sentence.

Since the start of her incarceration in 2006, Brown has earned her associate’s degree from Lipscomb University. She has also mentored fellow prisoners.

In 2011, Brown was the subject of the PBS documentary Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story. The film was produced by Daniel H. Birman, who documented Brown’s case from the week of her arrest until her conviction almost six years later.

Six years after the film released, an Instagram post about the case went viral gaining the attention of the public and celebrities.

“Imagine at the age of 16 being sex-trafficked by a pimp named ‘cut-throat.’ After days of being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men, you were purchased by a 43-year-old child predator who took you to his home to use you for sex. You end up finding enough courage to fight back and shoot and kill him,” the post read.

She is currently serving her life sentence at the Tennessee Prison for Women.