The violent and tragic death of Eliza Fletcher in Memphis, Tennessee has weighed on the minds of many people. Although a suspect has been apprehended, the event has left deep scars and a lot of questions. The main question: how did this happen? A sad question with an answer just as cruel. Especially since this entire tragedy could have been avoided.
The victim of this crime is Eliza Fletcher. Eliza was an heiress of a $3.2 billion private hardware company that is well known in Memphis. Although she was from a pedigree Tennessee family, Fletcher was a dedicated kindergarten teacher and adoring mother. According to the Memphis Magazine, Fletcher was a '‘natural’ girl — outdoorsy, athletic, and warm.” This outdoorsy and athletic nature is what led her to take an early morning jog on September 2nd. Fletcher left home at 4 am. Still, nobody could predict the tragedy that would take place.
Four Days Missing
The alarm was raised when local bike rider, Miles Fortas, found Fletcher’s cellphone and a pair of Champion slides that belonged to the kidnapper. Fortas picked up and delivered the cell phone to Fletcher’s husband, then he immediately contacted the police.
The search for the missing kindergarten was underway as local and state law enforcement searched for the missing jogger. Fortunately, law enforcement had a lead as the kidnapping was caught on surveillance footage. The footage showed a black GMC Terrain SUV that pulled ahead of Fletcher and waited till it passed. There was an apparent struggle as the SUV stayed parked for 4 minutes before leaving the scene.
DNA from the Champion slides leads the police to the suspect and he was arrested. On Monday, police discovered the body of Eliza Fletcher dumped in a huge garbage canister. The suspect is a repeat offender that should have never been let out of jail.
Suspect: A Repeat, Early Release Offender
The true tragedy of this story is that the perpetrator of this crime was a repeat offender who was released early. The culprit, Cleotha Abston, has a history of kidnapping and violence. Abston has a lengthy juvenile record. Starting at the age of 12, the offender was charged with theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and rape. With such a lengthy sheet of disturbing crimes, it is hard to believe that Abston was allowed to leave the juvenile hall. However, the young man was free to walk the streets by age 16. This oversight allowed the suspect to commit another crime.
In 2000, Abston was convicted of the aggravated kidnapping and robbery of Memphis lawyer Kemper Durmand. The 16-year-old Abston and his co-conspirator forced the lawyer into a truck at gunpoint before driving to an ATM to force the man to withdraw cash. Durmand was able to escape with his life by flagging down a Memphis armed Housing Authority officer. In Durmand’s victim impact statement, the lawyer testified that “It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped.”
However, in 2020, Abston was given early release. According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, the suspect was eligible for early release after serving 80% of his sentence. Since Abston’s sentences were concurrent and he passed “statutorily required” credits, the kidnapper was not supervised after his release. These credits could be earned by working as a cook in the kitchen.
An Avoidable Tragedy
The criminal justice system was aware of all the crimes that Abston had committed. They knew about the assaults, rapes, and kidnappings that this man was committing as a teenager. Yet, the Department of Corrections allowed this repeat offender to reenter society, without supervision, because he earned “credits.” No sane person should have released this violent, repeat predator. These policies led to the death of a beloved kindergarten teacher and mother of two.
The lieutenant governor of Tennessee, Randy McNally tweeted that its cases like Eliza Fletchers that make legislation like the Truth in Sentencing Act so important. Policies like the Truth in Sentencing Act force criminals to serve their full sentences to prevent the injustice that early release creates. This was an avoidable tragedy. Fletcher would still be alive if the criminal justice system was not eager to release violent criminals before their sentence is over. Making an early morning run in Memphis should not be a death sentence.