Transcript for Cyntoia Brown: From convicted murderer to victims' advocate
I just want to say thank you, first. I know a lot of people get to see you, but I have prayed for a very long time to be -- Reporter: Sen Toya brown is begging for mercy. The 30 year old is a college graduate, an advocate against sex trafficking and a convicted murder. What I did was horrible. There's nothing I can say to justify it. You can't justify it. You can't. You know, I killed Johnny Allen. He's gone. I thought he was reaching for a gun. Then what did you do? I shot him. Reporter: Brown admits she did it but maintains her sentence was too harsh for a teenager. It would take nearly 15 years and attention from a-list celebrities to put her case in the national spotlight and highlight juvenile justice in America. Documentary film maker Dan Berman has been following her case since the beginning. Within a day after she was arrested, the juvenile public defender gave me a call and said we just arrested somebody we think you ought to meet. Reporter: Officials in Tennessee granted Berman as ses to the then teenager. It was really to explain how one child's situation could be a dot connector for juveniles around the country. Reporter: She was arrested for the murder of 40 year old Johnny Allen. She says she was being prostituted by a pimp named cutthroat. Cameras were rolling as she described cut throat to a psychiatrist. The first time he did something to me is when he choked me and I passed out, because he said I thought he was a joke. Mm-hm. What else did he do to you? Pulled my by my hair, dragged me and stuff. Guns. Did you ever have sex with the guys? When I cut I did. Reporter: Sen Toya says cutthroat sent her out to work on that August night in 2004. She ended up at a sonic where she met Allen. I offered to pay her $150 and took her home where the two ended up in bed. At first he was like stroking me, then he grabbed me like in between my legs. He just grabbed me real hard and gave me this look, it was like a very fierce look, and it sent these chills up my spine. I'm thinking he's going to hit me or something like that. And then he rolls over like he's reaching to the side of the bed or something, and I'm like, he's not fitting to hit me, he's fixing to get a gun. Reporter: She argues his motive was robbery. She ran away with cash, guns and his car, she eventually anonymously called 911. The facts of the case didn't look good. She was at the tail end of three generations of violence against women. Reporter: In the documentary, the film maker dives deep into her family background. She was given up for adoption very young. Berman met her biological mother Gina, who had sen Toya when she was just 16. When I got pregnant I was drinking. I could drink a bottle that was this big by myself. Every day? Every day. Reporter: Tests would show brown was on the fetal alcohol spectrum, a disorder that impact the the brain and behavior. Brown also says she was sexually abused as a child, abuse that continued into her teens, both by relatives and strangers. That person while I was asleep, I woke up and his Was in my . He tricked me into it. He was his best friend, and he got me. Reporter: In Allen's murder, brown was eventually charged, tried and convicted as an adult. Guilty, first degree murder. . Reporter: In Tennessee, that carries a life sentence, 60 years behind bars. Even with good behavior, she would have to serve at least 51 years before any chance of parole. Yeah, it's over now. We are the most draconian nation when it comes to how we handle juveniles with sentencing laws. Reporter: A pair of rulings found mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional except for rare circumstances. Since 2014, at least 24 states have enacted new measures, like requiring reviews of life sentences given to teenagers. Tennessee isn't one of them. A lot of people, not just? Tennessee but across the country believe that the juvenile system needs to be reformed to recognize that juvenile offenders are different than adult offenders. Reporter: He judged the case more than a year ago. Juveniles' brains are not developed before age 18. The younger they are, the less development they have. Reporter: One thing that has changed, sex trafficking laws. No longer a child arrested for prostitution is considered as a prostitutes under Tennessee laws, they are now considered victims of trafficking. That's new. It suggests that if sen Toya were arrested today, she would be looked at through a different lens. Reporter: But at world outside evolved, brown grew up behind bars, at first struggling. I think I spent the last two years working on having a personality. I never had one before. Reporter: She went on to earn her ged. Her case got an unexpected boost from Hollywood. In 2012, R rejean Anna put her story on Instagram. It spread like wild fire, attracting celebrities like Alissa Milano and Kim Kardashian. Kardashian make headlines last year after entreating Donald Trump. She has completely rehab tatsed herself. Reporter: The president granted freedom for Johnson. Insded of waiting out her sentence, last year the now 30-year-old brown and her lawyers petitioned the Tennessee governor to grant her clemency. It got a lot of publicity. Our job is to look at it on the legal merits and treat it just like every other one. Reporter: At her hearing, brown acknowledged her crime. When I was 16, I did a horrible thing, and I have carried that with me this whole time. Reporter: But also pointed to her rehabilitation behind bars. I have a college degree now, a family, a whole new community of people who love me, who believe in me, who support me. Reporter: Including the glitter project, a program she developed to help girls who have been trafficked and exploited like she was. I've been able to help people, which is amazing. Young people, young kids. They listen. Reporter: She was backed up by witnesses, including teachers and advocates, even a former prosecutor who was in charge of brown's 2008 appeal. I argued that she needed to spend the rest of her life in prison. Reporter: Soon after, he became one of her college teachers. You grant her early release, she is going to invest herself in people who might otherwise come to this institution. She will seek them out. She will find them. She will mentor and minister to them, and she will keep other people from coming here. I do pray that you show me mercy and that you give me a second chance. Reporter: Brown had to wait more than seven months to find out the governor's answer. Clemency granted. She was elated, and she started to do an a little dance. The moment was electric. I do think we made the right decision, but we tried to make it kind of absent all the noise. Reporter: A spokesperson for Johnny Allen's family told the media they aren't happy with the decision but hope brown has changed. She will be released in August after serving 15 years in prison instead of 51. Dan Berman is now working on a sequel to his documentary out later this year focussing on brown and how criminal sentencing, particularly for juveniles needs to change. Maybe the blindfold of justice can be removed just an a little bit so we can consider bigger perspective for all children. Reporter: Brown isn't asking the world to forget what she did. She would readily admit she committed a crime and that the prison system has saved her life. Reporter: She says she just wants a chance to help other girls not make the same mistake. I can assure you I will not let you down. I won't. I promise. Our thanks to Adrian. And me facing life too, sen Toya's fight for freedom will launch in 2019, along with a social justice gain by odyssey impact, shining a light on the
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