On the night of Aug. 6, 2004, Cyntoia Brown, a runaway forced into prostitution by her abusive boyfriend, was picked up in front of a Nashville Sonic drive-in restaurant by Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old real estate agent. They went back to his house, where Cyntoia — who later insisted she feared for her life — shot him to death. She was subsequently tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
The night of the shooting, Birman said, "Cyntoia was creeped out by the guy, but she lacked the judgment to get up and walk out of the house." Instead, she panicked. Or perhaps, after so much abuse by so many men, she simply snapped. In any event, she grabbed a gun, pulled the trigger and Allen was dead. While the impulse to punish a perpetrator is understandable, it's hard to see how anyone, or any meaningful principle, is served by locking up Cyntoia for a half-century or more. (She's now in her early 20s.)
If there's a heavy in the film, it's the prosecutor at her murder trial who argues successfully for a guilty verdict and sentence of life without parole. But Birman gives him a chance to state his viewpoint at the end, and it's a perfectly reasonable one: His mandate is to keep violent, dangerous people off the streets, and he was doing his job. How she became violent and dangerous is someone else's responsibility.
I know that I do not have all of the information about this case, so what follows is not in any way meant to indicate that people involved did the wrong thing. Maybe they did, but I have no evidence to make such a claim. Think of this as a philosophical thought experiment based on the given scenario:
1) A woman has no record of violent crime and is not carrying a weapon.
2) A man picks her up and drives her to his house in order to conduct an illegal activity.
3) The man has a loaded gun, with the safety off, lying around within easy reach.
4) The woman shoots the man with this gun.
I would say that such a woman is no threat to any law-abiding citizen. She is only dangerous to people who seek out illegal activity with strangers in the presence of an unsecured weapon. I will not go so far as to say that the man she shot deserved to die, but he was clearly an idiot, and possibly a dangerous one.
When you consider the situation, the woman certainly had reason to fear for her life. Why would the man have the gun there, if he did not intend to threaten or kill her with it? Responsible gun owners who care about self-defense do not leave their weapons lying unsecured in the presence of strangers. They will either be carrying their gun in a holster at all times, or will have it in a hidden but easily reached location. They will also keep the safety on.
Given these facts alone, it would be hard to define the death of this man as 'crime'. It should be listed as either 'self defense' or 'gun accident'. When you add the facts of what he was planning to do to her, the case for trying her as an adult criminal starts to look incredibly weak. She may be dangerous to men who plan on sexually abusing her in the presence of a loaded gun, but there is no evidence that she is 'dangerous' to anyone else.
Maybe she should have walked away. But that is a lot harder than it sounds like. She was in a strange area with no transportation. How would she even get back to a place she knew? It might mean a 20-mile walk through bad neighborhoods, and that is if she even knew the way out. Also, it is definitely possible that walking away from that man in that situation would result in her getting shot in the back.
I would not feel the least bit threatened such a woman if she were living right next door to me. I cannot imagine any possible situation in which she would harm me. If anything, her shooting people like this would make the neighborhood a better and safer place.
The really annoying thing is that the man who raped her have never been punished. They are the truly dangerous people. If the legal system is not going to punish them, then it should at least stop punishing the women who defend themselves.