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Appeals court considers woman's challenge to life sentence

Last Updated Jun 14, 2018 at 9:00 am PDT

FILE - In this May 23, 2018 file photo, Cyntoia Brown appears in court during her clemency hearing at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn. Attorneys for the Tennessee woman serving a life sentence for killing a man when she was 16 are asking federal appellate judges to throw out her sentence, in a case that has attracted celebrity attention. Brown's attorneys will argue Thursday, June 14 before a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel. (Lacy Atkins/The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

CINCINNATI – Attorneys are debating whether a Tennessee woman serving a life sentence for killing a man when she was 16 can gain parole. They’re arguing before federal appellate judges in Cincinnati who are considering sending the case back to Tennessee.

Attorney Mark Pickrell told a three-judge 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel Thursday that Tennessee’s laws are ambiguous on the parole eligibility. He represents Cyntoia Brown, now 30, in a case that has attracted celebrity support for her.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, but Tennessee has argued successfully in lower courts that Brown does have a possibility for parole — after she serves 51 years.

The judges said they could ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to decide that issue before they rule whether Brown’s sentence is unconstitutional.