The Complicated Case of Cyntoia Brown

Forced into prostitution. Acting in self defence. Accused of murder. Sentenced to life in prison. Cyntoia Brown suffered growing up, but only now has she finally been absolved of her crime. In August 2004, Johnny Allen was found with a gunshot wound in the back of his head in his Mossdale Drive home. Brown shot him as she feared for her own life. Finally, a case that has taken more than ten years to solve ended in victory for Cyntoia Brown as she was granted clemency. But should it have even taken this long? How does a court look at a case as complicated as hers?

There are many ways to view this case, but perhaps the best place to start would be from the very beginning. Cyntoia Brown was born on Jan 29th, 1988 to a mother who drank alcohol during her pregnancy. As her attorneys state, it’s possible that due to the drinking during pregnancy, Cyntoia Brown may have been born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. As her mother used crack cocaine after Cyntoia’s birth, she was unable to care for her daughter, resulting in Cyntoia being placed up for adoption. Eventually adopted by a family in Tennessee, she ran away from her home at the age of sixteen in 2004. Ending up on the streets on Nashville, she met a twenty four year old pimp named Kutthroat. Forced into prostitution by him, she earned money to make a living for both Kutthroat and herself. He would verbally abuse her, lowering her self-esteem and sense of independence. But should a judge look at someone’s background during a court case? Her upbringing background and the possibility of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder help explain some of the situations Cyntoia Brown found herself in. Some behavioral patterns that can be seen among teenagers with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are hyperactivity, poor attention, concentration, stubbornness, impulsiveness and anxiety.

Unless we were in her position or were in the room that night watching the events fold out, how would we know?

When Cyntoia Brown was in the room with Allen, we don’t know much of what actually happened. According to her, she felt threatened by him and assumed he was reaching out for a gun. As a result, she immediately shot him with her own gun. Unfortunately, there were no cameras in the room. The only “truth” we have are her words. Whether it was an impulsive reaction due to her alcohol spectrum disorder or simply out of fear, we won’t know. We can’t know unless we were in her position or were in the room that night watching the events unfold.

Suddenly, we are slapped with something that shows her in a completely different light. Allen was found to be asleep when he was shot in the back of the head. She apparently told an inmate that she shot Allen “just to see how it feels to kill somebody”, and sent an inmate a note saying she didn’t actually feel threatened by Allen. Persecutors felt that she killed Allen to rob him.

An article by Carl M. Cannon talks about the notoriority of the case and how celebrities are voicing their support for her case. He makes a good point when he writes, “Yes, Cyntoia Brown had a horrible childhood, but that wasn’t Johnny Allen’s doing.” The case is too complicated to ever know the reality of the situation that took place in the room that night. Maybe Allen wasn’t threatening at all and Brown wanted to rob him. Maybe Allen was in fact intimidating to a point that she had to shoot him.

Fifteen years is a long time. Did the case have to take that long? I believe it definitely was not a case that could be solved as quickly as most people who have wanted. Cyntoia Brown led a complicated childhood, and has now finally been granted clemency. Whether people agree with the clemency or not, she’s made a lot of changes to her life during imprisonment including getting a degree while in prison. She now hopes to help other girls in her position to change their pathways. If she were to serve 51 years in prison for such a complicated case, as the judge says, perhaps, it’s rather “harsh.”

Author: Aditi Balasubramanian

Aditi Balasubramanian is a senior at SAS and one of the Chief Copy Editors for The Eye. This is her fourth year at SAS but she has lived in Singapore her whole life. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading and watching "Gilmore Girls"--which may have fuelled her interest in being a journalist. She loves anything with chocolate in it and Indian food. She can be contacted at

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