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Was Cyntoia Brown sentenced to life in prison for self-defense? Nope.

Was Cyntoia Brown sentenced to life in prison for self-defense? Nope.

Learn what the mainstream media isn’t telling you about the Cyntoia Brown case

A lot of people have been forwarding me articles about Cyntoia Brown, who was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery when she was a 16-year-old prostitute. Recent news coverage includes this very sympathetic piece from CNN and another from NPR, as well as a deluge of similarly sympathetic coverage from a variety of other sources.

Brown unsuccessfully argued self-defense at her trail. The court sentenced her to life in prison. She will first be eligible for parole after serving 51 years of her sentence.

It seems Ms. Brown has been getting a great deal of attention in recent years, arguing that she deserves clemency because of her status as a victim of sex trafficking. This attention includes a full-blown documentary, a social media campaign (#FreeCyntoiaBrown), and support from such people I guess I’m supposed to know as Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, and Kim Kardashian:

This attention reached a crescendo last week when the Tennessee supreme court unanimously affirmed Ms. Brown’s conviction and life sentence in this decision (embedded below).

The case is a combination of arguably legitimate public policy issues (should a 16-year-old be subject to a life sentence, even for murder?) and social hysteria nonsense (victims of sex trafficking, which I guess means prostitutes) should be immunized not just against minor offenses such as truancy and underage drinking, but also murder.

I’m sure reasonable people could take opposing positions on all those issues.

This case is not a self-defense case. Given that my claimed area of expertise is use-of-force law, not generalized public policy, that leaves me with little to share on this case.  I can blog the following truth not being reported at all by the mainstream media coverage of Ms. Brown’s travails.

How do we know this isn’t a self-defense case? Because even Ms. Brown is not appealing on the basis of self-defense. Her only basis for appeal, both at the state level and the Federal level, is essentially that her sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Period.

There’s a reason she’s not appealing on the basis of self-defense: her claim of self-defense sucks based on the uncontested facts in this case. To quote from the 2014 decision of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (the state’s mid-level appellate court for criminal matters, and the decision of which is also embedded below):

The nude victim was lying face-down on the bed in a large pool of blood, and his “hands were beneath his face, his fingers ‘kind of partially interlocked,'” as if he had been sleeping. An autopsy revealed that he had been shot in the back of the head and that he did not have any defensive wounds. In the early morning hours of August 8, 2004, officers found the victim’s white pickup truck in a Walmart parking lot and arrested the Petitioner at a nearby hotel.

How about Ms. Brown’s own narrative of “self-defense,” quoting from the same decision?

The Petitioner waived her Miranda rights and gave a statement to police in which she said that on the night of August 6, 2004, she was walking near a Sonic Drive-In when the victim, whom she did not know, picked her up in his truck. He drove her to the Sonic, they ordered food, and the victim offered to let her spend the night at his home. The Petitioner accepted the victim’s offer, and they went to his house. There, the victim showed the Petitioner some guns, and they got into bed together. The victim whispered to and touched the Petitioner and reached underneath the bed. The Petitioner thought the victim was reaching for a gun, so she pulled a .40 caliber handgun out of her purse and shot him. She took money out of the victim’s wallet and two of his guns, drove his truck to the Walmart parking lot, and had someone drive her to the hotel where she was later arrested. The Petitioner denied that she was a prostitute or that she had sex with the victim.

I note that on appeal Ms. Brown no longer denies she was a prostitute, but in contrast claims the status of a prostitute and a victim of sex trafficking.

Folks, if you shoot someone, then steal their wallet, guns, and car, flee the scene for purposes other than safety, and never contact authorities to report the shooting, it’s not going to look like self-defense to much of anybody. That’s especially true when the victim is found with his fingers laced, in a position of apparent sleep, and with a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

Incidentally, I’ve seen these undisputed facts of Ms. Brown’s case recited in absolutely zero of the media reports advocating for her cause. Shocking, I know.

Well, those undisputed facts didn’t sound like self-defense to the trial jury either (again quoting the TN Court of Criminal Appeals):

The Petitioner was tried as an adult, and the jury rejected her claim of self-defense, finding her guilty of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, and especially aggravated robbery, a Class A felony.

So, whatever this case might be—and it could be lots of things—it’s simply not a self-defense case, and thus not something I plan to cover in any further depth than in this post.

As promised, here’s last week’s TN Supreme Court decision:

Here’s the 2014 TN Court of Criminal Appeals decision:


Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC

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These two Scribd posts look like the same file, from 2014. Should one be more recent?

Michael Dunn of Lakeland has a better case than this woman. The other Michael Dunn who is in jail had a better case

Her defense is that she’s a 16-year old girl. Kinda like the Long Island Lolita who shot Mrs. Buttafuoco in the face.

Sex trafficking raises an interesting issue. Ariel Castro held three women captive in Cleveland for years. (Amanda Berry, Michele Knight, Gina deJesus).

What would the law say if one of the women killed him to get away. Or the women worked in tandem and premeditation to kill him to get away?


    healthguyfsu in reply to Ulysses. | December 11, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    The law applies to facts not emotions. It’s difficult to separate the two.

    Unless he is preventing their escape (which he likely would have) then it would not be self defense. An insanity plea would be a better defense.

      healthguyfsu in reply to Ulysses. | December 11, 2018 at 2:04 pm

      What’s your point? I’m quite familiar with the case.

      I’m not familiar with a self-defense narrative for homicide since it didn’t happen in that case.

    NotCoach in reply to Ulysses. | December 11, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    The case was extreme, and if the victims did commit premeditated murder I think the prosecution would undercharge because they would fear jury nullification.

      sheepgirl in reply to NotCoach. | December 11, 2018 at 4:32 pm

      In such a case as a multiple kidnapping with long term captivity, it would be easy to argue that even a premeditated conspiracy to kill the SOB was necessary and justified to effect escape. Particularly when one of the women was trying to protect her child, conceived in rape and born in captivity.

      I can’t imagine a prosecutor would even attempt a lesser charge because I think the best that could be had on any charge would be a hung jury and far more likely to end in a complete acquittal with a jury note that said “Some people just need killing”.

        Gremlin1974 in reply to sheepgirl. | December 11, 2018 at 5:16 pm

        Yea, but what prosecutor who actually wants to be re-elected would even charge them?

        healthguyfsu in reply to sheepgirl. | December 11, 2018 at 7:19 pm

        Your post is a textbook case of not separating emotion from law. (but you are probably right that undercharging or no charging would be the likely outcome for political reasons)

        A guy a few years back was robbed multiple times by two teenagers who terrorized him with this regular break-in stuff. He got fed up, moved his car and laid in wait for them to come again with a gun essentially set a trap for them. He shot them both dead in the house.

        He was charged with murder one, even though both were shot in the house because it was determined that they were attempting to escape. He was convicted on both counts.

          NotCoach in reply to healthguyfsu. | December 12, 2018 at 3:40 am

          Yours seems to be a textbook case of delusion. Think about the facts of the Castro case. Your example is in no way comparable. These three women were held captive for years. In a hypothetical scenario they plot Castro’s murder while being held captive. I think sheepgirl is right in that a prosecutor under such circumstances might see it as self defense. Now, if they escaped and plotted his murder (and we Assume Castro was never apprehended after their escape) then we have something else entirely. But I’m still not sure they would be charged with 1st degree murder considering the potentially mitigating circumstances. Of course this is all conjecture.

          healthguyfsu in reply to healthguyfsu. | December 12, 2018 at 8:31 am

          It’s marginally comparable, as to be expected since the Castro case is extreme.

          The comparison is that even when bad stuff is being done to you, you don’t have license to kill for retribution. At least, according to the letter of the law. Now, the enforcement of that law may be different, and I conceded as much at the top of my post above.

          sheepgirl in reply to healthguyfsu. | December 12, 2018 at 7:45 pm

          I would argue that a captive is always in imminent peril of death or great bodily harm so killing the captor in order to effect escape is always self defense. The victim cannot know the mind of the captor or whether she might be killed at any moment (not to mention continued rape), so any means used to effect escape are self defense, including plotting with other captives.

          Sheepgirl has the correct answer.


    Ulysses in reply to Ulysses. | December 12, 2018 at 8:38 am

    Perhaps Andrews reticence means that Ohio law does not contemplate a fact set of long-term forced captivity and rape. As I recall from Andrew’s book; Ohio is the only State that puts the burden on the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence for self-defense at trial.

Over the weekend when I saw this blow up on Twitter, I was saddened by the degree of arguments.

Some were actually claiming that her killing and stealing of money was a legitimate act of self-defense… because it would allow her to escape her circumstances.

I imagine that calling the police immediately after shooting him would have had a better chance of that.

    healthguyfsu in reply to dahat. | December 11, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    By that logic, any robber can shoot you and claim self defense if he uses it to “escape his circumstances”.

      Their logic was quite poor. Another common suggestion was that Cyntoia White would have received much less (if any) jail time, and that this case proves how racist our judicial system is to people of color.

        Milhouse in reply to dahat. | December 11, 2018 at 6:16 pm

        The statistics on that are so overwhelming that even the organized left has stopped making such claims, and shifted to the claim that sentences differ depending on the victim’s race.

      Why not? The UN wants to make ‘climate change’ a legitimate basis for asylum claims. From there it’s a short step to ‘it was hot last summer and my crops failed’ and presto-bingo, you’re on the US welfare teat.

    Observer in reply to dahat. | December 11, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    Her circumstances (according to her) were that she was being forced to engage in sex work by her boyfriend/pimp “Cut Throat,” of whom she was afraid. So killing and stealing from a john would not have gotten her out of those circumstances, because Cut Throat would still be alive and threatening her. But what would have gotten her out of those circumstances is if she had used her gun to shoot Cut Throat dead. If she had done that, she’d have a much more compelling argument for self defense.

This case is more like the Florida serial killer Aileen Carol Wuornos than the Long Island Lolita. The felony murder rule is responsible for the difference in sentencing. Joey’s wife wasn’t being robbed at the time she was shot in the face and left to die.

“It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life!”

I would agree with this if there was any evidence that the girl actually was “sex trafficked,” or that she was “fighting back” against it. Instead, it appears that she was voluntarily engaged in prostitution, and that she deliberately shot a sleeping john in order to rob him.

The girl told cops that she was living with her boyfriend/pimp and that he had forced her into sex work, but she also told them that her boyfriend/pimp had given her a gun to protect herself. If, as she claimed, she was afraid of her pimp, then why not use her gun to shoot him, instead of the sleeping victim? With an IQ of 134, she certainly could have figured out that shooting her pimp, rather than a sleeping john, was a more effective way to “fight back” against being sex trafficked.

The media identifies with the prostitute narrative as they have that in common.

Why does the Left always find the worst examples of people to champion and dump on the best examples? You would think they could easily find some poor woman who had been beaten and abused to the point where she had to use a gun to defend herself…

Oh. Well, that answers the question, I think. Can’t have real victims using nasty guns to save their life. Narrative and all that.

The claim of her having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is interesting.

As far as her age, IMHO, that is something that has to be decided on a case by case basis. The reason being I think Maturity should be the question not chronological age. A 16 year old who has lived a sheltered life with loving parents is not as mature as a 16 year old who has been on the streets.

    Observer in reply to Gremlin1974. | December 11, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Given the circumstances of her upbringing and her chronic mental health issues, there’s a good argument here for reducing her sentence to something less severe than life in prison. She’d had an abusive mother, she’d been in and out of state facilities for most of her life, she’d been misdiagnosed and improperly treated for her mental health issues, etc. Hopefully she can get herself on a better path in prison. She’s smart, and she can take classes and work with a volunteer therapist on improving her impulse control and other deficits. If she’s willing to make the effort, maybe some years down the road a Tennessee governor will show her some mercy and commute her sentence.

      Gremlin1974 in reply to Observer. | December 11, 2018 at 5:27 pm

      I might agree if she had shot her pimp in the back of the head while sleeping, but she didn’t.

      None of the evidence suggests she was coerced or forced into prostitution.

      Also, just because someone is mentally ill does not mean that it is a automatic “get out of jail free card”. We are not talking about someone who is hearing voices telling them to do the bad thing.

      In fact her actions seem to argue against mental illness since she, by all evidence, planned the crime at least to some degree. She went with him, she brought a weapon, she waited for him to go to sleep, she shot him in the back of the head, and so on. I have extensive experience in forensic psych and Organized thinking and planning aren’t real prevalent.

      Sure the FAS might be real, but with an IQ of 134 it is very mild to mild.

      She got the sentence she deserved.

    daniel_ream in reply to Gremlin1974. | December 11, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    A 16 year old who has lived a sheltered life with loving parents is not as mature as a 16 year old who has been on the streets.

    A 16-year old living on the streets is almost certainly less mature than one living a sheltered life with loving parents, by virtue of being in a near constant state of complex PTSD.

      Gremlin1974 in reply to daniel_ream. | December 11, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      I disagree.

        Arminius in reply to Gremlin1974. | December 12, 2018 at 1:51 am

        Feel free to disagree. But none of the evidence points to children of broken homes or abusive families having any better outcomes than children of intact or loving homes. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite. If it were otherwise, the most loving thing you could do for your child is abuse your child and then abandon him or her.

        Arminius in reply to Gremlin1974. | December 12, 2018 at 2:03 am

        On what basis do you disagree?

        Neglected or abused children don’t end up much differently than orphans.

        “…Parents do a lot more than make sure a child has food and shelter, researchers say. They play a critical role in brain development.

        More than a decade of research on children raised in institutions shows that “neglect is awful for the brain,” says Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. Without someone who is a reliable source of attention, affection and stimulation, he says, “the wiring of the brain goes awry.” The result can be long-term mental and emotional problems…”

        It’s a simple fact; a sixteen y.o. raised in a loving, stimulating home will be more developed mentally and emotionally than a sixteen y.o. who wasn’t.

        Here’s another interesting factoid. The evidence points to the conclusion that girls who are fostered by loving, caring parents can make up at least some of the gap. But boys can’t. For boys the damage is permanentOn what basis do you argue I’m wrong?

        Arminius in reply to Gremlin1974. | December 12, 2018 at 2:08 am

        I will grant you the “sheltered life” part. That never helps. But it isn’t as if you’re going to be raised on the streets and turn out nearly as good (on average) as if you were raised by an intact family.

Hollywood types are on it, that tells you just about all you need to know about this case.

Her parents should each get 10 years for giving her that stupid name.

The “Pied Piper of Saipan.” He was a Marine who in pre-war Los Angeles had despite the fact he was basically a Mexican street kid and gang member had been adopted into a Japanese family.

He earned the Silver Star for convincing over a thousand Japanese on Saipan to surrender. His medal was later upgraded to the Navy Cross.

The point being that it would be absolutely stupid for anyone to contend that how you started out in life determines your fate always and forever. You might be raised in a loving, attentive, stimulating environment by caring parents and turn out to be Jefferey Dahmer. You might grow up as an L.A. gang banger and get taken in by a family that turns your life around.

None of this has anything to do with the averages, which are indisputable. On the whole, one set of circumstances produces better results than the opposite.

This case was exceptionally cut and dried. This young woman was almost assuredly involved in prostitution. The evidence clearly supported the conclusion that she cold-bloodedly executed her client and stole his money. She did not present a defense that she was abducted, raped or was in any danger at the time, which was supported, even remotely, by the evidence in the case. She was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, largely due to the fact that she was a demonstrated danger to society.

Of course, the liberal left would attempt to help her by holding her up as some sort of heroine. The left is always trying to excuse violent, anti-social behavior on the part of individuals, especially if the are part of some minority. They have been doing this for decades. They only people who liberals wish to see prosecuted [or persecuted] to the fullest extent of the law are conservatives.

General P. Malaise | December 12, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Do you have her original statement to the police? I would like to see if statement analysis yields any information.