Singer and makeup mogul Rihanna is speaking out in favor of Cyntoia Brown, a woman who was forced into sex trafficking as a teenager and then sentenced to prison after killing her rapist.
Rihanna, 28, posted a passionate plea to her Instagram account on Nov. 21, writing that Brown's sentence was an injustice, according to Hollywood Life.
"Did we somehow change the definition of #JUSTICE along the way??" the star wrote on her Instagram. "[C]ause….. Something is horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life! To each of you responsible for this child’s sentence I hope to God you don’t have children, because this could be your daughter being punished for punishing already! #FREECYNTOIABROWN #HowManyMore."
Brown, now 28, is serving a life sentence for murdering 43-year-old real estate agent Johnny Mitchell Allen, according to The Tennessean.
She committed the murder at age 16. At the time, she said a violent boyfriend forced her into prostitution.
Allen reportedly picked her up and drove her to his home. As he lay naked in his bed, Brown picked up a gun and shot him point blank in the head. She believed he was reaching for a gun.
"I shot him," she said after committing the crime. "I executed him."
Her case has drawn national criticism, with many saying her punishment of life in prison is too extreme. Teenagers have been scientifically proven to have less developed brains than adults, and have more trouble regulating aggression, abstract thinking and long-term planning.
The Supreme Court issued a a pair of rulings requiring states to review sentences of life without parole.
In Tennessee, however, it takes 51 years before a sentence is reviewed, forcing many teens to remain imprisoned for what advocates call a "virtual life sentence."
"You are basically taking a kid at age 14 or 15 or 16 and making a decision about the rest of their life based on who they are at that age, and they’re not developed human beings at that time," said Kathy Sinback, a juvenile court administrator in metropolitan Nashville. "You have kids at their peak of poor judgment, impulsivity and lack of development and we’re taking that one thing that they do and locking them into sentences that are going to last for the rest of their lives."
Sinback has led efforts to change Tennessee state law to require authorities to revisit cases where teens have been sentenced to life imprisonment after 15-to-20 years.
As the law stands, Brown won't have her case reviewed until she is 69 years old.
Brown has garnered a reputation in prison for being a model inmate, mentoring other female prisoners and graduating with an associate degree from a Lipscomb University in-jail program.
Her story and her model behavior in prison is sparking figures like Rihanna to speak out. In addition to her Instagram plea, the star also shared a photo of Brown at her graduation from Lipscomb with the caption "#freecyntoniabrown."
However, some say Brown's age at the time of the murder should have no bearing on her punishment.
"We are not denying the premise that teenage perpetrators are impacted by toxic stress and events in their life, but we do believe juveniles have to be held accountable for their actions," Cathy Gurley, executive director of the victims' rights group You Have the Power, told The Tennessean.
"The results are the same whether the person committing the crime is 16 or 60," she added.