Last Thursday (December 6), the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Cyntoia Brown, who is incarcerated for killing her would-be rapist when she was 16, will not be eligible for parole until she serves 51 years of her life sentence.  

Reports CNN:

Thursday’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit in which Brown argues her sentence is unconstitutional, citing a 2012 opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court that said mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders violate the U.S. Constitution.

In the unanimous decision, the state court ruled that juvenile offenders facing life, like Brown, must serve five decades before being considered for parole.  

Brown is in the Tennessee Prison for Women for shooting Johnny Allen in 2004. At the time of the incident, she was a 16-year-old who had been forced into prostitution. Allen, 43, picked her up at a Sonic drive-in and drove her back to his house, which had guns on display. Brown maintains that she killed him with a gun from her purse in an act of self-defense. Prosecutors in her trial countered that she went to Allen’s house to rob him. 

In May, Brown had a clemency hearing that resulted in a split decision from the board. “Two of the six members voted to grant clemency, two to deny it and two to make her eligible for parole after 25 years,” CNN reported.

Her case has long been followed by prison reform advocates, who argue Brown was a victim of underage sex trafficking. A PBS Independent Lens documentary about her, “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story,” aired in 2011. In addition, celebrities including Rihanna and LeBron James have publicly supported her.

Based on last week’s decision, Brown is not eligible to go before a parole board until she is 67 years old. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear her case next. 

Brown’s other chance for an earlier release rests with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, He can grant her clemency with a shorter sentence before he leaves office in January.

Twitter users are discussing how the public can help, using the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown