Though many hadn't heard of the case against Cyntoia Brown until the Netflix documentary, Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story was announced, her story is one you won't soon forget. In 2004, a then-16-year-old Brown shot and killed Johnny Michael Allen in his Tennessee home.
He had hired her as a prostitute, though she was a minor. She later stated that he made her feel unsafe, and that he sexaully assulated her. She claimed that she shot him out of self defense.
Brown was tried as an adult, and she was convicted of first degree murder in August of 2004. In the years that followed, she became a model prisoner and she furthered her education by completing Lipscomb University classes while in prison. Many members of the public took issue with the fact that she was given a life sentence when she was still a minor.
She was later granted clemency by the then-governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam. Cyntoia Brown became a free woman in 2019 after serving 15 years in prison.
While Brown was fighting her conviction, her legal team argued that her traumatic upbringing took a huge toll on her development. She was born to a teen mother named Georgina Mitchell, who confirmed that she drank heavily throughout her pregnancy, but she was later adopted by Ellenette Brown.
Cyntoia Brown's birth mother, Georgina Mitchell, soon became a key component in Brown's case, as her team determined whether Brown inherited any issues from her mother's alcohol addiction.
Who is Georgina Mitchell, the birth mother of Cyntoia Brown? Read on for the details of how Mitchell played a key role in helping her daughter get free, and to learn why Brown was given up for adoption in the first place.
Who is Georgina Mitchell, Cyntoia Brown's birth mother?
Cyntoia Brown's early years were marked by change, as Georgina Mitchell gave her up for adoption when she was an infant. Mitchell drank heavily while she was pregnant, and she did not know the identity of her daughter's father. Cyntoia Brown's defense team later claimed that it was possible that she had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASDs) because of how much Mitchell drank during pregnancy. FASDs can cause behavioral problems.
She later began using cocaine while Brown was a newborn.
Though Cyntoia Brown's adoptive mother, teacher Ellenette Brown, provided her with stability from an early age, she still acted out.
In the documentary, the investigation into Georgina Mitchell's background was explored. Forensic Psychologist Dr. William Bernet performed an evaluation on both Cyntoia Brown and Mitchell in 2004. He asked Cyntoia Brown if she ever experienced mood swings, and she confirmed that she often did.
He later concluded that she had a personality disorder. He then spoke with Mitchell, who had not seen her daughter for more than 14 years.
"It would be helpful to know whether there's any kind of mental disorder among the biological family of Cyntoia," Dr. Bernet said.
"I could see the traits she has, it was like looking at me at the same age. The ups, the downs, anger one minute, happy the next. You know, she wanted to know about our side of the family," Mitchell said about her reunion with Cyntoia Brown.
After Dr. Bernet asked for Mitchell's family history, she explained that her own mother had shot herself in the stomach when she was a child. She said that alcohol abuse and suicidal tendencies ran in her family, and that it affected her mother, grandmother, and uncle. Mitchell explained that she ran away from home at an early age to try to avoid the same hardships. She later confirmed that she was molested by a family friend beginning at the age of six.
Ellenette Brown told Dr. Bernet that her adopted daughter's behavioral issues really began in junior high school, after she was kicked out of the public school. She said that Cyntoia Brown ran away at that time, and that she continued getting in trouble after she came back.
Cyntoia Brown moved out for good shortly before the murder, Ellenette Brown said, because she knew she couldn't get away with drinking or getting high at home.
The documentary crew caught up with Georgina Mitchell again at her Alabama residence in 2008. That's when she further discussed her alcohol abuse while pregnant.
"I got pregnant on my 16th birthday," she recalled. "I was confused, misled, and misguided. My mother — we didn't live in a very stable home. The home was stable but my mother was not stable. I got the attention I needed from friends and male companions."
Mitchell explained that she felt neglected because of her mother.
"The mental health problems all start with her," Mitchell said. "And you'll be able to see that for yourself within two minutes of talking to her."
Mitchell said that she would take vodka from her family's liquor cabinet and drink it before school.
"When I got pregnant, I was drinking. I could drink a whole bottle by myself," she explained. "If I had it every day, I could drink it every day. If I didn't have it, we were definitely going to find a way to get it."
When Cyntoia Brown was around eight months old, Mitchell said she was introduced to crack cocaine. To buy the cocaine, she would get money from prostituting.
As for where Mitchell is today, she turned 49 on April 29, which coincided with the release of the documentary. She ended the documentary by saying that she hopes that her daughter finds happiness.
Who is Cyntoia Brown's grandmother, Joan Warren?
While featuring Mitchell in the Netflix documentary shed some light on the battles Cyntoia Brown would ultimately deal with in life, it was nothing compared to the introduction of her maternal grandmother, Joan Warren. The footage of Warren was taken in 2008, and Mitchell warned the film crew about how she would often fight with her mother within a few minutes of seeing her.
Warren explained that she wished she never had kids because of the struggles they would deal with as a result of their family demons.
"If I had been as educated then as I am now, I probably would not have had my children and put them through what they have gone through. I think a lot of it is genetics," Warren said. "This family probably needs therapy to bring it closer."
"I don't think there's any hope of the three of us turning back, from the pain of what we've gone through," Warren later said. "That's just something we're going to have to live through, one way or the other."
Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story is now available to stream on Netflix.