The latest true-crime documentary to land on Netflix is Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story, looking at the incarceration of Cyntoia Brown Long – a Nashville woman found guilty of robbing and murdering a man who bought her for sex at age 16.
After serving 15 years of her 51 year-to-life sentence, Tennessee’s governor granted Brown Long clemency and released her from prison.
The new documentary focuses on Brown Long’s trial and incarceration, but has attracted controversy for failing to inform Brown Long during production and recycling old footage.
Here’s everything you need to know about Cyntoia Brown and what the documentary fails to tell you…
Who is Cyntoia Brown?
Brown Long was born in Kentucky in 1988 as Cyntoia Denise Mitchell. She was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder after her mother reportedly drunk excessively during her pregnancy.
During her early teens, Brown spent time with Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services between April 2001 and September 2003 after committing “crimes against a person, and crimes against property”. She eventually ran away from home and met Garion L McGlothen, who emotionally, physically and sexual abused her. McGlothen forced her into involuntary prostitution to pay their bills.
What was Cyntoia Brown accused of?
On August 6, 2004, Brown Long was reportedly approached by 43-year-old Johnny Michael Allen for sex. Police later found his body – he had been shot in the back of the head and charged Brown Long with his murder.
Prosecutors argued that she had been motivated by robbery, but Brown Long insists that she shot him in self-defence after he became aggressive and revealed his guns to her.
Brown Long was tried as an adult despite being 16 at the time, as Metro Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green argued it was too much of a risk to the community to keep her in a juvenile prison.
She was found guilty of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery and given a life sentence.
Why was Cyntoia Brown released?
In 2011, a documentary called Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story was aired on US network PBS, raising the public profile of the case. The film highlighted elements of Brown Long’s case which were overlooked such as her troubled childhood, the abuse she faced and the prejudicial nature of the first trial.
National attorney Charles Bone then represented her during a 2012 appeal, representing her for free up until her release in 2019.
Celebrities such as Rihanna, Lana Del Rey, Kim Kardashian and Cara Delevigne came out in support of Brown Long as a result of the increase in public attention. A public clemency hearing was then held in 2018 but the board was split on their decision.
She was eventually released from prison after several witnesses testified on her behalf at a public hearing and the public reached out to the Governor’s office via social media.
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Where is Cyntoia Brown now?
Brown Long is now an advocate for prison reform after earning her high school equivalency diploma and associate degree in prison.
In January 2019, she said that she aimed to “live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people,” adding: “My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”
She has since written a memoir titled Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption inn the American Prison System, and married musician Jaime Long.
What does Cyntoia Brown think of Murder to Mercy?
On 15th April, Brown Long released a now-deleted statement on Twitter explaining that she had not been involved in the documentary.
“While I was still incarcerated, a producer who has old footage of me made a deal with Netflix for an UNAUTHORISED documentary, set to be released soon,” she wrote.
“My husband and I were as surprised as everyone else when we first heard the news because we did not participate in any way.”
“While I pray that this film highlights things wrong in our justice system, I had nothing to do with this documentary,” she added.
The documentary has also been criticised for re-using footage from the 2011 documentary, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, and failing to look at Brown Long’s life after prison.