Celebrities reignite fight to free woman in prison for life

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Celebrities have reignited the fight to free a Tennessee woman serving a life sentence for fatally shooting a man, saying she was a sex-trafficking victim wronged by the legal system.

Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian West and Lebron James have joined others on social media in supporting Cyntoia Brown, 29, who won't be eligible for parole until she turns 67. Brown was 16 at the time of the 2004 shooting.

"Did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way??" Rihanna wrote Tuesday about Brown on Instagram, receiving 1.8 million 'likes.' "cause..... Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child's sentence I hope to God you don't have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already! #FREECYNTOIABROWN #HowManyMore"

Prosecutors said Brown shot 43-year-old Johnny Allen so she could rob him. She took his pants, containing his wallet, and some guns, they said. Brown said at the time she met Allen, she had been staying in motels in Nashville with a 24-year-old man nicknamed Cut-throat. She said she snorted cocaine with Cut-throat and that he sexually abused her and forced her to prostitute herself so they would have money to live.

One day Allen picked her up off the street and bought her some fast food, she said. She said he drove her back to his house, which was full of guns, and that he was behaving in a strange manner that made her want to leave. When she couldn't sneak away, she said she wanted to nap. He lay down with her but didn't fall asleep. He kept getting up and standing over her. She became more panicked, convinced something was going to happen to her, she said. She said she shrugged off his advances and, as he rolled over, she took a gun from her purse and shot him once in the head.

Brown's attorney, Charles Bone, said he's not sure why the case is drawing celebrity attention right now, although the story was in the news again recently when WZTV-TV in Nashville gave an updated report on the case. There was a previous surge of support for Brown in 2011 when a documentary about her life appeared on public television.

Beyond social media posts, some celebrities have also reached out, Bone said. He didn't say who they were or how they got in touch.

"We're hopeful that this support can be used constructively, not just for her, but for everybody who's out there fighting sex traffic and sex slavery," Bone said.

Bone says a court appeal over the constitutionality of Brown's sentence is pending and he's petitioning the governor and parole officials for reduced prison time. Some state lawmakers have tried and failed to pass legislation that would allow juveniles sentenced to life to be eligible for parole after 30 years, instead of 51.

The prosecutor in Brown's case, Jeff Burks, objects to the recent attention she has been getting.

"There has been a group of people who have wanted to make Ms. Brown a victim and a celebrity since this happened," Burks, who now works in Georgia, wrote to WZTV-TV. "She was not 'trafficked,' nor was she a 'sex slave.' It's not fair to the victim and his family that the other side of this case is so seldom heard."