Suspect in Memphis jogger Eliza Fletcher’s murder has a lengthy juvenile record, including rape and kidnapping

The Tennessee man charged in the abduction and murder of a woman who vanished Friday as she was jogging in Memphis has a lengthy juvenile criminal record that dates back to 1995 when he was 11 years old, court documents reveal.

Cleotha Abston has been charged with various crimes every year from 1995 up to 2000, when he was sentenced to 24 years in prison for kidnapping a Memphis lawyer, according to documents obtained by NBC News.

Just two years after his release in 2020, Abston, 38, is now charged with the death of Eliza Fletcher.

Listed in the documents are multiple offenses, including convictions for a rape charge from 1998 when he was 14 and a kidnapping charge from 2000 when he was 16.

Eliza Fletcher
Eliza Fletcher.Memphis Police Dept.

Felicia Hogan, a spokesperson for the Shelby County Juvenile Court, said in a statement Wednesday that the court found that Abston “committed rape when he was 14 years old” but she did not provide further details.

“Because of the severity of the crime, the statute says this offense information is releasable even though at the time Abston was a juvenile,” Hogan said. “There is no information being released on when, to whom or where this rape happened. The rest of his juvenile record is sealed and there are no other records to be released.”

Abston was placed in the custody of the county’s Youth Services Bureau after he was convicted of rape, Hogan said.

In May 2000, he was charged with aggravated robbery and kidnapping. The court documents state that Abston, then 16, kidnapped a man named Kemper Durand at gunpoint and forced Durand into the trunk of a car.

Abston took Durand, a criminal defense lawyer, to an ATM so he could withdraw cash, but Durand escaped after yelling for help.

“I had been taken from the trunk of my car, where he and his co-defendant had placed me for a number of hours, and made to drive to the Mapco station,” Durand recounted in a victim impact statement.

“The purpose was that I was to use my ATM card to get cash for Cleotha Abston. It was very fortunate that an armed, uniformed Memphis Housing Authority guard happened to come into the Mapco station.”

“It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped,” he said.

Durand wrote that he felt “extremely lucky” he escaped and noted that he felt Abston had “absolutely no remorse” for the crime. Durand died in 2013.

Abston pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. He was released from the Tennessee Department of Correction in November 2020.

Dorothy Carter, a spokesperson for the department, said Wednesday that Abston was sentenced to “100% with 85% eligibility,” meaning after serving 85% of his time he could get credit for time served and “program credits.”

Prior to his sentence, he had served 512 days, Carter said. Abston also earned “program credits” for having jobs such as a cleaner, cook, kitchen helper and laundry laborer while in prison.

“Those credits + the 512 already served days allowed Abston to be released at 85% of his sentence, although it’s considered he fulfilled his entire sentence,” Carter said.

Carter said the department had no authority to monitor Abston following his release.

Although Abston has not been convicted of Fletcher’s death, Tennessee Lt. Governor Randy McNally said Tuesday that had Abston remained in jail for the full 24 years, Fletcher would still be alive.

“It is simply disgraceful that this individual did not serve his full sentence for his previous crimes,” McNally tweeted.

“Not only must evildoers pay the full price for their crimes, that punishment must serve as a warning that these actions simply will not be tolerated in our society.”

Fletcher — an avid runner, kindergarten teacher and mother of two — was on her regular 4 a.m. jog near the University of Memphis when Abston forced her into his SUV, according to police.

Security video showed “a black GMC Terrain passing and then waiting for the victim to run by,” according to a criminal complaint. A male exited the car, ran toward Fletcher and forced her into the passenger’s seat, it said.

Abston was linked to the abduction after police said they found his DNA on a pair of sandals found at the scene. He was arrested Saturday, a day after the kidnapping, after police found the SUV in a parking lot by his residence, an affidavit states.

Fletcher’s body was found just after 5 p.m. Monday in a vacant duplex apartment on Victor Street. A cause and manner of death have not been released.

Abston was arraigned on several charges including first-degree murder and kidnapping. A judge revoked his bond during an arraignment Wednesday.

Attorney information for Abston was not immediately available and his family could not be reached at phone numbers listed for them.

Juliette Arcodia, Anthony Cusumano and Debra Jones contributed.

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