Cyntoia Brown, behind bars since 16, walks free

Cyntoia Brown

By Minyvonne Burke

Cyntoia Brown, whose life sentence for killing a man when she was 16 inspired a documentary and celebrity support, walked free from prison in Tennessee on Wednesday after 15 years behind bars.

"Early this morning offender Cyntoia Denise Brown was released from the Tennessee Prison for Women," the Tennessee Department of Correction said in a statement issued at 3:26 a.m. (4:26 a.m. ET).

Now 31, she was convicted as a teen of murdering a man she said had hired her for sex.

Her story led celebrities such as Rihanna, Alyssa Milano and Kim Kardashian West to advocate on her behalf and is cited as an example of the need for criminal justice reform.

Brown was 16 when she shot and killed 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen in 2004 after he allegedly paid her for sex. She said that she shot Allen, of Nashville, when she saw him reaching for what she believed was a gun while they were in bed at his home.

Prosecutors have argued that the motive was not self-defense as she claimed, but robbery.

At the time of the crime, Brown was a runaway and living with her 24-year-old boyfriend, a pimp known as "Kut Throat," who she said raped her and forced her into prostitution.