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  • Michael L Bergonzi

The Journey of Cyntoia Brown: From Felony to Freedom

Updated: Feb 21

By Michael L. Bergonzi

Author and activist Cyntoia Brown Long gave a talk at the student dining and residential services building last week. A victim of sex trafficking at the age of 16 and convicted of first-degree murder in Tennessee at that same age, Brown Long's legal journey has been anything but simple.

Cyntoia Brown Long

Brown Long was released on clemency by the former governor of Tennessee in 2019. A clemency is a petition than a hearing. According to Brown, less than 1 percent of these cases are seen by the governor's screening staff. She recounted her journey from when she dropped out of elementary school to when she was released from prison and onward to the present. The audience were of all ages and from all walks of life.

Despite being 16 years old at the time, she was tried as an adult after the death of Johnny Allen because the court decided she would be a danger to the other juvenile detention center inmates. One of her many times in both juvenile and adult courtrooms, her lawyers brought in an medical expert to testify as to whether or not she had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder due to her birth mother drinking while pregnant and other mental health issues and hardships in the family going back at least a couple of generations. When she heard the expert speak about her, Brown Long's response was shock. "It really affected my self-esteem."

That wouldn't be the first time that one of Brown's lawyers surprised her, according to her memoir "Free Cyntoia." After her trial was switched to an adult court, Brown said she was told she would serve eight years for robbery and manslaughter if convicted. The idea she might get life in prison never occurred to her until that moment.

In the Netflix documentary "Murder to Mercy," Brown Long's encounter with police after the death of Johnny Allen gives insight into her thought process and behavioral patterns. A psychologist from one of her first legal teams said she didn't understand her 5th amendment rights meant she didn't need to talk to the police. Even if they said they'll make a deal or talk to the DA about a lighter sentence, in the moment she had no idea that doing the opposite was an option.

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