Netflix has become a hub for compelling true crime original series and documentaries, as evidenced by the success of Tiger King, How to Fix a Drug Scandal, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, and Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. The next documentary to drop on the streaming service might be the most polarizing one yet.
The life and crimes of Cyntoia Brown will be covered in Murder to Mercy, which will be released on Netflix on April 29.
Brown spent 15 years in prison for murdering Johnny Michael Allen in Tennessee, and her case proved to be incredibly complicated.
For one thing, Brown was a minor at the time when she committed the murder, and she also alleged that she only did so because she was scared for her own safety.
Who did Cyntoia Brown kill? We're breaking down the crime in question, how she was eventually given clemency, and where Cyntoia Brown is now.
Who did Cyntoia Brown kill?
Brown was born in Kentucky in 1988 to a mother who drank heavily throughout her pregnancy. The identity of her father is still unknown. After her mother became addicted to cocaine shortly after Brown's birth, she was put up for adoption. Though she was taken in by a caring family, Brown had several run-ins with the law during her teen years.
She spent time in the Department of Child Services (DCS) on and off from 2001 to 2003, after she committed crimes against property and people.
Brown ran away from DCS multiple times, most notably in 2004. While she was on the run, she met Garion McGlothen, who was also known by the nickname Kut. He was violent toward Brown, and he even forced her into sex trafficking when she was just a teenager.
In August of 2004, a 43-year-old real estate agent named Johnny Michael Allen solicited the 16-year-old Brown for sex. They met in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant in Nashville, and he offered her $150.
After agreeing to go with Allen, the two went to his truck and then back to his house. It was there that Brown shot Allen in the back of the head with a handgun. She then stole the money in Allen's wallet, which amounted to around $170, and two of his guns. She fled the scene in his truck, and put it in a Walmart parking lot. She hitchhiked a ride home from a stranger, and Brown and McGlothen then stayed at a nearby motel together that evening.
The following day, Brown returned to the parking lot where Allen's car (with his body inside) remained. She took a ride from a neighbor, who later reported that Brown was bragging about having shot a man in order to rob him. The neighbor also reported that Brown wanted to go to Allen's house to steal his belongings.
Brown was soon arrested for Allen's murder. In 2006, she went on trial for the murder, and she was tried as an adult.
The decision to try Brown as an adult was a controversial one at the time, because she was 16 years old when she committed the murder. But, the Metro Juvenile Court in Nashville alleged that Brown was too dangerous to be kept with other underage inmates.
While Brown never denied killing Allen, she later explained that she only did so because she was afraid for her life. She claimed that she shot him because she thought he was grabbing a gun to kill her.
But, the prosecution argued that Allen's body was found with his hands interlocked behind his head. They claimed that this proved that he was not reaching over to grab anything and that he was, in fact, asleep when he was murdered.
The prosecution also said that there was no gun found near Allen's body at all that would have indicated that he was planning on killing Brown.
Other evidence against Brown included an alleged attack on a nurse while she was getting evaluated at a mental health institute.
There were also recorded calls from the jail to her adoptive mother. In them, Brown said that she executed Allen. Fellow inmates at the jail also reported that Brown had said she murdered Allen to rob him.
In 2006, she was found guilty of first degree murder, aggravated robbery, and felony murder. She was given a sentence of life in prison.
Why was Cyntoia Brown released from prison?
After the guilty verdict was read, Brown was sent to the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, which is a maximum security facility. She wed musician Jamie Long while in prison in 2019.
Documentaries that shed a positive light on Brown were also released, and she furthered her education online at Lipscomb University.
Multiple celebrities showed their support for Brown in recent years, including Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, and Snoop Dogg. There was a lot of backlash at the fact that Brown was tried as an adult.
This helped Brown get a hearing for her clemency petition in 2018.
The then-governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, granted clemency to Brown. She was released from prison in August of 2019. Her memoir, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System came out in October of 2019. The latest exposure for the 32-year-old is the Netflix documentary.
Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story will be available to stream on Netflix beginning on April 29.