Cyntoia Brown, by her own admission, committed a terrible crime that resulted in a harsh sentence of life in prison. But supporters and advocates who helped with her successful bid to receive clemency noted that she had a troubled childhood stemming from her complicated relationship with the two women she could call her mother — and this difficulty while growing up may have put her on the path that ended with her behind bars.
So who are these two women?
Both of Cyntoia's maternal figures, biological mom Georgina Mitchell and adoptive mother Ellenette Brown, spoke with filmmakers in "Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story" to help fill in some gaps about Cyntoia's troubled childhood.
Mitchell talked about her own troubled childhood in the documentary, saying she was sexually assaulted by a neighbor for years beginning when she was 6 years old.
Mitchell has admitted she drank alcohol the entire time she was pregnant with Cyntoia and gave birth to her when she was just 16, according to court documents. Specifically, she testified to drinking up to a fifth of whiskey a day and using crack cocaine while pregnant with Cyntoia, according to a prior documentary on PBS.
Cyntoia's lawyers have argued Cyntoia likely suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, and was thus more prone to risk-taking behavior — like running away from home or killing Johnny Michael Allen, a realtor who prosecutors say picked her up for sex in 2004 when she was 16 years old.
Mitchell was unable to provide for Cyntoia and gave her up for adoption.
"She was a good baby, she was really good," Mitchell told investigators in a scene in the documentary. "It just got really hard and it felt like I couldn't do it alone."
Cyntoia eventually found a more steady home with Ellenette Brown, but still struggled to acclimate — Ellenette noted in a documentary scene that her household had her "off and on" since she was an infant. Although Cyntoia took her adoptive mother's last name, Ellenette has confessed that there was a wall between the two when Cyntoia was a teenager.
"I don't know ... Cyntoia, I don't think she was very trusting of me," Ellenette told the PBS documentary. "I don't understand why felt she couldn't come to me and talk to me."
Cyntoia had her own take on why she couldn't connect with her.
“I think I pushed my mother away because she was trying so hard,” Cyntoia told Essence in 2019. “As a teen I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t want structure. My mother was all about structure ... And that’s where I was at that point. No matter how hard my mother tried, I just wasn’t receptive to changing. You have to want it," Cyntoia Brown told the magazine.
By 2004, Cyntoia had run away from home. She eventually moved in with a man named Garion McGlothen, who was also known by the aliases "Kut Throat" or "Cut throat," according to The Appeal and The Associated Press. McGlothen soon began verbally and physically abusing her, which culminated in him forcing her into prostitution for his financial gain.
McGlothen was killed in a 2005 shooting, according to local news outlet The Chattanoogan.
Cyntoia had her fateful encounter with Allen that year, killing him and telling police that she feared he was reaching for a gun to shoot her when she shot him. Prosecutors noted that evidence suggested Cyntoia had shot Allen while he was asleep and she stole Allen's guns, money, and car while fleeing the scene, according to the Associated Press.
In 2006, Cyntoia was sentenced to life in prison on first-degree murder charges. She would not be released until 2019 via an act of clemency from outgoing Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam after she petitioned for mercy — pointing toward her work to achieve a secondary degree in prison.
"Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope," Haslam said in a statement accompanying the act of clemency, CNN reported at the time.
"She has everything she needs to be successful, how she uses it — it's basically up to her," Ellenette told the documentary.
Cyntoia, who now goes by her married name Cyntoia Brown-Long, initially said she did not authorize or participate in the documentary on Netflix in a statement on Instagram — adding that she hadn't seen it but hoped it will highlight the need for reform in the criminal justice system.
"While I was still incarcerated, a producer who has old footage of me made a deal with Netflix for an UNAUTHORIZED documentary, set to be released soon," she said in a statement also posted to Twitter. "My husband and I were as surprised as everyone else when we first heard the news because we did not participate in any way."
However, Cyntoia later deleted the posts without explanation. A representative for Netflix said she will now be promoting her book along with the Netflix film "in an exclusive interview," The Daily Beast reported.
She has not responded to further requests for comment from Oxygen.com.
Both Ellenette and Mitchell were unable to be reached for comment about their current relationship with Cyntoia.
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