Cyntoia awaits Haslam decision as 98 percent of clemency applications don't reach governor

Cyntoia Brown was physically, sexually and verbally abused as a child sex slave in Nashville, attorneys say.

For the second time since he took office, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has granted executive clemency to 11 people convicted of crimes in Tennessee. A woman convicted in 2004 for the second-degree murder of her father in Bledsoe County will go home this month after receiving clemency in July.

That woman, Michelle Martin, killed her father after enduring years of sexual abuse. She was just 22 years old when a judge sentenced her to 25 years behind bars. Martin is expected to walk out of Tennessee's women's prison for supervised parole this month.

Her case is drawing comparisons to the clemency petition filed on behalf of Cyntoia Brown, a Nashville woman convicted of killing the man who bought her for sex while an adult trafficked her. Brown was given a life sentence despite being 16 at the time of her crime.

"I think the Cyntoia Brown case is definitely a controversial one. You've got many, many people strenuously arguing she should be granted clemency," said Ben Raybin, whose client was one of 11 that received clemency from Haslam Thursday. "And a lot of people that say that she shouldn't."

Haslam is asking for patience as he continues to review Brown's case; an evaluation of her case is ongoing.

"I wouldn't necessarily jump to any conclusions one way or the other," Haslam said in July. "We're trying to look at every case on an individual basis."

Brown and Martin are both graduates of Lipscomb's LIFE program which allows female inmates at The Tennessee Women's Prison to pursue associates, bachelors and Masters degrees. Martin and Brown have associates degrees.

What frustrates attorneys like Raybin is that 98% of all clemency applications (for parole or commutation) never make it to the governor's desk because the parole board reviews them first and can make a unilateral decision to deny or not pass on the application.

"The parole board actually unilaterally denies 98% of applicants without ever sending them to the governor," Raybin said. "It's tough to know how many of those 98% are deserving of relief because it's sort of a secret system."

Brown's legal team is not commenting on her clemency petition until the governor has reached a decision. Haslam said everyone he spoke to on Martin called her an excellent example of successful rehabilitation.

More than 400,000 people around the world signed a petition on last year asking for Brown to be released. Haslam has until he leaves office on January 18 to make a decision; if he does not decide, governor-elect Bill Lee will have the power.

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