“The 16 Year Old Killer” Cyntoia’s Story


16 years old & a life sentence: looking back, facing forward

By Judith Yates   Nashville True Crime Examiner May 28, 2013

Cyntoia Brown found herself standing near a Nashville street, sobbing from a beating she just received from her boyfriend/pimp when 43-year-old Johnny Allen pulled up to ask her, “Are you alright?” Seeking refuge, her story of fear, abuse, and addiction spilled out to the stranger. So he solicited her: “Are you up for some action?” The 16-year-old girl’s life took a dramatic change hours later.

She had been working as a prostitute to pay the bills and for a twenty-four-year-old boyfriend’s drug habit, smoking marijuana and snorting cocaine when life got too harsh. Cyntoia had hit the street at thirteen, a chronic runaway. “I wasn’t running from; I was running to,” she explains now. The streets of Nashville gave her “what I thought was freedom” versus what she felt was a cloistered life in Clarksville, where a Viet Nam veteran stepfather drank excessively and meted out punishment whenever. Her biological mother worked the streets prostituting to support a drug addiction. She and another teen runaway relied “on the kindness of strangers” who were aware of their runaway status, but did not care or used her youth to their own advantage. “I could pick up (marijuana) and smoke it whenever, I could stay out late or sleep, I was infatuated with older men who were twenty-five, twenty-six” she thought were boyfriends, but in reality were abusive pimps. She lived from seedy apartment to hotel room. The flotsam life had to end badly, and for Cyntoia Brown it did: in September 2006 she was sentenced to life in prison for killing Johnny Allen hours after he had picked her up. She will be eligible for parole when she is 67.

Today, Brown is a 25 year old, juxtaposing of street-wise youth and educated philosopher who is scoring high collegiate marks and enjoying work as a tutor, assisting inmates obtain their GED. “I’m always moving forward. I have the stigma of being an inmate,” Brown says. “But I try not to get caught up in the negative. I have to stay positive to survive.” She does not see incarcerated women following her lead. “It’s like they’ve given up. On everything, and everyone.” Outside prison, the legal jousting continues on her case: being tried as an adult, her history of mental illness and childhood abuse, the victim’s intentions, and a documentary made on her life. But inside, all she has is “to keep working to inspire people in here.”

Brown is philosophical on her life story. “Nothing bad affected me from my childhood,” she says. “I was thirteen and thought I knew it all. You don’t know half of what you think you know. You don’t think of the future consequences of your actions. But things (from childhood) stick with you. It affects your self esteem, yourself, how you view relationships.” Pimps, she says, “have a way of getting into your mind and you believe everything they say. They can mold you, shape you, break you until you’re like a puppy mill puppy, shirking and scared of everyone else.” She encourages young people to “listen to adults. They’re here for a reason. I missed getting a driver’s license, going to a prom. I wish I would have listened to people in my life that were positive.” Now that she is sentenced to life behind bars, her worries have changed: “If someone feels like something is wrong, do something about it. Write a letter. Speak out. Don’t just be outraged.” What would her victim’s family say? “I don’t know. They said (during victim impact statements) at my trial they hated me.” She ponders the question. “To hope they’ve forgiven me is naïve.” She looks away, thinking of the victim. “He was a Sunday school teacher, sang in the choir.” Then she frowns. “But he knew how old I was (16). I told him. And he still did it (solicited her for sex). I don’t get it.” Sex crimes against underage girls continue to baffle her.

Despite a youth that spun out of control, constant issues with prison rules, mental illness, and prostituting when most girls worried over school sweethearts, Cyntoia Brown pushes on. She is verbose, thoughtful, and polite. She has also proven to be combative, argumentive, and manipulative. She was one of the seventeen percent of Nashville students who did not complete high school, and one of 500,000 to 2.8 million kids living on the U.S. street (one in four of these runaways are approached for commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of leaving home), one of 2,250 U.S. juveniles sentenced to life without parole for an offense committed as a child. She is a statistic, an inmate, a murderer, and an example of juvenile delinquency in this state. However, “I have to remind people that I’m a person,” she explains. “I’m naïve, but I believe, somehow, I can make a difference.”




  • Matthew says:

    It’s terrible that her life met such a troubled path. I sincerely hope, as a result of viewing this, to the young girls especially eager to be adults would just listen and grasp the message of their parents or to this young lady story. “Act your age” is a phrase some of us grew up hearing. And to the little girls out there readily wanting to be “grown” before their time better redirect and alter your focus. Remember, when you act grown you will meet adult treatment/consequence. As for mrs. Brown I sincerely hope you remain focus, keep your mind chiseled and form a plan for life outside the penitentiary because you will have your freedom back.

  • George H Nahim says:

    I am very sad to hear your story I read online on Christmas Day 2013. Also, I am sorry to hear the death of Johnny Allen and may God be him and his family. I hope God be with you and keep you in prayers. Your calls will be answered at the right time and keep the faith.
    Virginia Beach, VA.

  • Every country besides America says:


  • sweets says:

    What type of man will have sex with a 16 year old girl?

  • YOUNG GOTTI says:

    tashasouthmemphis what are you saying? son of a biatchhhhhhhhh
    she was 16 at that time, if you look at her lifestory its hard to belive that she was feeling good at that time. she should been in school instead of the streets, now i feel very sad for her becouse i know how the american govenment works, this sons of bitches. any cop would have done the same if that cop was in her position, if i reached for a gun i been gunned down, that what she did. and there is no evidence that shows that she is a bad person, she was given that life she thought was so but nobody suported her, i think you should be happy that you mom and pops or who ever was there to show you the good way of life as you was born.

  • sheena says:

    Gosh your so angry but I am an american and I can’t believe people feel bad for him. I feel sorry for her she spilled her guts worries and everything and he took advantage and she was at her end and he caught all of it. I feel bad for his family though its funny that they hate her and want to ignore what their family member did.

  • Life Happens says:

    I don’t think it’s fair that we only get to hear one side of the story. How do we know Johnny Allen wasn’t forced to undress at gun point or was stripped naked after he was shot? We don’t because he was murdered. In no way am I defending the act or solicitation of prostitution: however it does not occur to me that drug addicted prostitutes are required to show ID to prove their age to their clients, especially in a part of town known for prostitution. This is my opinion: They both chose poorly that day and both reaped the unfortunate consequences.
    Also, MANY Thanks to “TashaSouthmemphis ViceladyMosby” for providing further details on how “Her closest friends took the stand and testified about how she bragged about doing him in because he was, “green” meaning he was an unsuspecting naïve man that had no idea what was going to happen. They also testified that she never once said she feared for her life, but instead said, “I just hit a easy lick on this old dude.” She didn’t use the words, “fear of my life” until she was arrested.”
    This goes to show how people, including myself, are quick to only hear one side and immediately start judging without having ALL the facts from BOTH sides.
    There are plenty of people, including myself, who have turned a tragic childhood into an honest, taxpaying, productive life despite countless horrendous obstacles. Everyone has a crazy family. Some choose to “inherit” the family madness while others start moving in the right direction and don’t look back. If I turned around and blamed every one for all the things that have gone wrong in my life, I’d be stuck turned around in the wrong direction. I pray this story influences as many teens as possible to make positive choices for themselves and live out the consequences.

  • A. Lawrence says:

    I have read different accounts (BTW, thanks @Tashasouthmemphis for the additional info, as many articles seem biased in her favor). At any rate, I think (like many) that the life sentence is too harsh, but being tried as a juvenile (and just in the system till 19) is too lenient. I realize the expenses for changing, but the system needs to change. This girl may have been damaged goods from day 1 (her biological risk as a daughter of a chemically dependent woman with a personality disorder and bipolar affective disorder- as well as significant history of at least suicide on that side of the family). Unfortunately, then she was subjected to MANY different caregivers at crucial ages (between 0-3 or 4, her mom first gave her up to the adoptive mom, which seems to be the best thing that happened in her life, but later ended up “kidnapping” her back (the adoptive mom initially didn’t have custody papers). From 11/2 years old until around 2-3 bio mom moved her around to different places and towns while she pursued a life of prostitution and drug addiction, erratically leaving the child at the care of apparently kindly neighbors-but still different caregivers). It is clear that Cyntoia started having attachment/abandonment/trust issues from an early age. As a young teen she started acting out, but I believe that that’s where the problem that led to the murder and these two lost lives (neither of them an angel) started.
    I think that it would be very helpful if the “system” changed, and instead of lumping together first time juvenile (and even adult) offenders with the more seasoned recurrent offenders is what really worsens the problem. -remember peer pressure anyone?- That’s where they learn more “tricks of the trade” and end up exposed to substance use -or more dangerous/potent substances-…… What if they were placed in a first time offenders situation and then as part of their sentence they were committed to so many hours of being exposed to these criminals that seem to have changed or realized their ways- telling them about the other side of the coin? It could be a process where the “repentant” criminal can/should do this as part of their “social service” requirement. Adolescents- and I’m sure first time adult offenders- are more likely to listen to a peer. This positive “peer pressure” of learning from a peer who has “been there and done that”, while surrounded by peers in a similar legal status is probably way more powerful than listening to all those well meaning adults that are definitely from a completely different world. It should certainly be a supervised “class” but it would offer the opportunity for these kids to develop a social conscience, and for the “repeat” or seasoned offender to pay back to society and do something meaningful as a way of “turning around” their crime….a true SOCIAL SERVICE!….wouldn’t it be good?? perhaps not even so expensive! As it is, there are many lost opportunities, and it is the public that ends up cheated out of a chance to improve our society…..

  • Sandy says:

    I think this jury and those who condemn Cyntoia so harshly do not understand that a 15-16 year old is not capable of rational thought. This is a time when their brains are changing rapidly, leading to wrong perceptions and erratic decision without thought for consequences.

    This adult man heard the story of a victimized young girl, then, instead of doing what a decent man who teaches Sunday school should have done, which is help her return home, he decided to victimize her further. So he brought her food before trying to rape her, whoop de doo! Fact is, he was an adult, a man old enough to be her father who knew she was a minor who was in trouble and still saw her not as a human being but as an object to use to satisfy his own needs.

    Who knows why she killed him? Any or all parts of the story could be true. Maybe she was afraid, maybe she was tired of grown men using her, maybe he reminded her of her brutalizing step father and she had a flashback that caused her reaction. Yes she did rob him afterwards, but remember that her pimp has sent her out to get money and she’d just killed the guy who was going to pay her. So is it possible she was trying to make sure her pimp didn’t beat her up for returning empty handed? That she was using the story of killing this man to gain some street cred and maybe give a hidden warning to those other men who were using and abusing her? Making sure they know she is not afraid to protect herself? Talking tough because the streets are rough?

    She has done a lot of time and should be given the opportunity to redeem herself now that she is an adult who understands her mental illnes and other issues as well as what led her down this path. There are monsters out there, but Cyntoia is not one of them.

  • Alicia says:

    I truly wish it was something I could do about this. 16 at the time all of this took place in her life George Zimmerman Trevyon Martin the same way and he is walking freely would her situation be different, if she had $$$, would her situation be different, if she was a different nationally I understand she took someone’s life, but was he truly innocent he was freaking 42 with a16 year girl in his bedroom. What is wrong with America? God is justice not the people of the united states at the end of what we call life we will all be judged honestly do she need to spend the rest of her life in prison she might’ve saved other young girls from being violated someone should be checking his background and see how many young ladies he had taken back to his house or how many young ladies he might’ve been with from teaching Sunday Saints are sinners to NOBODY! Is perfect. I pray that someday someone finds a peace of compassion for her.

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