A convicted felon accused of raping and murdering schoolteacher Eliza Fletcher has pleaded not guilty to all charges related to her killing.
Cleotha Abston-Henderson, 38, was arraigned at Shelby County Criminal Court today on multiple charges – including the rape and abduction of another woman.
He pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of the billionaire heiress as well as the rape of Alicia Franklin in 2021.
Abston-Henderson, 38, is accused of killing elementary school teacher Fletcher, 34, after bundling her into his car during an early morning run in September last year.
The convicted felon was indicted on January 25 on charges of especially aggravated kidnapping, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and tampering with evidence.
Eliza Fletcher, 34, (pictured) was kidnapped after being forced into a black SUV in September last year and dumped at an abandoned house
Abston-Henderson, 38, is accused of killing elementary school teacher Fletcher, 34, after bundling her into his car during an early morning run in September last year
Judge Lee Coffee’ told Fletcher’s family, who were in c ourt that the case would be a ‘long journey’.
He said: ‘This is going to be a long journey; these cases do not resolve themselves in a brief period of time.
‘If this case goes to trial, it will probably be two to three years before it’s actually tried. I hope we can compress it to less than that.’
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office has also filed a notice to seek enhanced punishment on the case so that it may file a notice to seek life in prison without the possibility of parole or even the death penalty.
Tennessee is a state with the death penalty, with prosecutors previously saying they were not ruling it out if he is convicted.
Abston-Henderson was identified in the rape of Franklin after he was arrested for the murder of Fletcher, with a DNA kit flagging him as a potential suspect.
A DNA kit was sent to the investigation bureau two days after the crime allegedly took place on September 21, 2021.
Jennifer Case, his public defender, argued at a previous hearing that she wanted a gag order for her client.
The convicted felon, pictured at a previous hearing, was indicted on January 25 on charges of especially aggravated kidnapping, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and tampering with evidence
Authorities confirmed that a body found in long grass near an abandoned property was that of Fletcher
Case argued that certain aspects of the case should not be made public, after Memphis Police Chief C.J. David called her client a ‘dangerous predator’.
The Memphis Police Department said in a statement: ‘An official CODIS hit was not received until after the unfortunate event that occurred on September 2, 2022.
‘Probable cause to make a physical arrest of any suspect did not exist until after the CODIS hit had been received.’
A spokesman for Tennessee Buero of Investigations (TBI) confirmed the dates of the kids and the system flagging up the match.
However, they noted that the evidence against Abston was placed in a ‘queue of unknown assailant kits, as no request was made for TBI analysis to be expedited, and no suspect information or DNA standard was included in the submission.’
Authorities confirmed that a body found in long grass near an abandoned property was that of Fletcher.
Missing mother Eliza Fletcher pictured with her husband Richie and their two children. The family described her as a ‘special’ woman who was taken away from them in a ‘senseless’ manner
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy confirmed that the incident was ‘isolated’ and that Fletcher had never met her attacker before.
When asked whether Abston-Henderson should have been released early after spending 22 years in prison for kidnapping a lawyer, Mulroy said: ‘It’s easy to talk about things 20202 hindsight.
Cleotha Abston, pictured in 2000, was first arrested when he was just 11 years old and was in and out of juvenille court when 16 times in five years before he kidnapped a lawyer
‘In this particular case clearly, he shouldn’t have been on the street. Our office opposed parole at the time and in hindsight the parole decision was a tragic one.
‘When you have repeat violent offenders, they need to be dealt with very strongly.’
When asked by DailyMail.com if Fletcher was sexually assaulted, the DA refused to answer.
A obituary for the teacher described her as a ‘born athlete’, who ‘found great joy’ in her morning runs and was ‘not afraid to be vulnerable.
It comes after court documents reveal that he was previously convicted of raping a man when he was a teenager.
Abston, 38, was just 11 when he first appeared in Shelby County Juvenile Court, in Memphis, Tennessee, charged with theft of property $500 or less.
He was detained 16 times from October 1995 to May 2000 for rape, aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon.
Abston, who is accused of taking the keen jogger, drove with her in his GMC terrain for an hour and a half before the vehicle was spotted turning into the road where her body was discovered. Officers searched underneath the porch of the house where she was found
Cops discovered the missing mother-of-two in long grass close to where her Lululemon running shorts were found in a trash bag
According to Action News 5 his first charges were filed against him in June 1995, and he was part of the ‘LMG’ gang – which stands for ‘Lemoyne Gardens Gangstas’.
Records show that Abston was accused of raping a man and was placed in the custody of Shelby County’s Youth Services Bureau.
Two weeks after he was released from his final spell at the SCYSB to his mother’s care, he was transferred to adult court for kidnapping lawyer Kemper Durand.
DA Mulroy added: ‘I’m not going to go into the juvenile court record for obvious reasons. We can go into the adult court record which shows a conviction for kidnapping.
‘We will hear more about his record at the appropriate time in court.’
Abston was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the offence, and was released in 2020 before violently bundling Eliza Fletcher, 34, into an SUV.
Police also discovered Fletchers Lululemon purple running shorts in a trash bag less than half a mile from where her body was discovered on Victor Street
According to the criminal affidavit in the case, Mario Abston’s neighbors witnessed the suspect cleaning out his car and reported that he had been acting strange. New surveillance footage shows Abston cleaning out the GMC Terrain after kidnapping the mother-of-two
Footage shows the suspected killer driving to the home of his brother, Mario, at the Longview Gardens apartment complex around 8am on the Friday she went missing.
Less than four hours earlier Abston is accused of kidnapping the heiress seven miles away, close to the University of Memphis.
In the video, he can be seen sitting in his car after arriving at the complex before getting up and going to the trunk of the car. It’s unclear what he was getting from the trunk.
After rummaging around in the vehicle’s trunk, Abston runs into his brother’s home before returning to the car and spends more than an hour on the passenger side of the GMC Terrain.
His brother Mario, 36, described his brother as acting ‘strangely’, and has also been arrested on several felonies that are unrelated to Fletcher’s case
Officers found a semi-automatic handgun, a scale with a bag of heroin and fentanyl, and he was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony and possession of controlled substances.
Fletcher was last seen about 4.20am on Friday, when she was jogging (right) in Memphis and a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle, police said
Memphis Police Officers were seen searching the area where Eliza was found. She remained hidden by long grass and foliage for four days before discovery with blood seeping into the soil
Abston told police that his brother had been cleaning the interior of his GMC Terrain with floor cleaner, as well as washing his clothes in the sink of the house.
Cleo Henderson, Abston’s father, is currently in prison for second-degree murder and is scheduled for release in 2044.
Another neighbour confirmed that Abston was acting ‘very strange’, and police determined that his phone pinged near to where Fletcher was taken.
Officers removed a dumpster close to Abston’s brothers low-income apartment complex over the weekend.
Cops discovered the missing mother-of-two in long grass close to where her Lululemon running shorts were found in a trash bag.
She was discovered by the steps of a dilapidated one-story property just yards from where police last spotted the vehicle she was forced into.
A bloodstain remained at the bottom of the stairs next to the patch of dirt where her body was found, with flies still swarming the area and locals reporting a ‘stench of decay’.
The area where the body was found is just a hundred yards from the Longview Gardens apartment complex – where Abston’s brother, Mario, lives.
Abston was previously charged with kidnapping and tampering with evidence in relation to her disappearance, as well as other unrelated charges.
Surveillance footage obtained by police, which has not been released, show a man running ‘aggressively’ towards Fletcher and forcing her into the passenger side of the vehicle.
The pair struggled, and the car then sat in the parking lot for four minutes with Fletcher inside before driving off to an unknown location.
Police tracked him down after finding his DNA on Champion sliders that were left behind during the struggle with Fletcher, as well as her cell phone and water bottle.