Memphis/ Crime & Emergencies
AI Assisted Icon
Published on June 18, 2024
February 2025 Trial Set for Man Charged in Memphis Teacher Eliza Fletcher's Murder and KidnappingSource: Memphis Police Department

The trial date for Cleotha Abston, the man charged with the kidnapping and murder of Memphis school teacher Eliza Fletcher, has been set for February 10, 2025. According to FOX 17, Abston, 40, has entered a plea of not guilty to the charges, which also include first-degree murder and unlawful carrying or possession of a weapon. In a saddening chapter that gripped the Memphis community, Fletcher was abducted during a morning jog near the University of Memphis on Sept. 2, 2022, her body found days later near a vacant duplex.

Shelby County Judge Lee Coffee, who set the trial date, also recently denied a motion by Abston’s attorneys for a retrial in a separate 2021 rape conviction, as FOX13 Memphis reports. Abston had previously been found guilty of kidnapping and raping Alicia Franklin, a conviction carrying an 80-year prison sentence. The denial of the retrial motion is a prelude to an appeal, with Abston's attorneys citing issues including the court's refusal to change the trial venue and the handling of evidence.

"They come every day," remarked Prosecutor Paul Hagerman, referring to Fletcher's family's presence in court for the hearings. Their commitment to seeking justice for their lost member, Eliza, was underscored, in a comment obtained by Action News 5, stating, "They've been committed to justice from Eliza from the very start, the heartbreaking start. And they'll be here till the very, very end."

Abston's attorney Juni Ganguli has indicated a change of venue will be requested before the murder trial begins, "I think we would ask for a change of venue," Ganguli said, as per a statement obtained by Action News 5. In addition, Shelby County prosecutors will seek the death penalty if Abston is convicted of the first-degree murder charges connected to Fletcher's death. Abston’s criminal record extends back to the 1990s when he was a juvenile, and his recent 80-year prison sentence encompasses 40 years for aggravated rape, 20 years for aggravated kidnapping, and another 20 years for being a felon in possession of a weapon, in sentences that will run consecutively.

In the aftermath of Fletcher's tragic death, a law has been passed requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to report on sexual assault kit testing times quarterly. The passage of this law stands as one of the tangible effects following the heinous crime that stole the life of a 34-year-old kindergarten teacher, mother of two, and as reported by FOX 17, prompted runners in Memphis and other cities to pay tribute to Fletcher through early-morning runs, signifying a communal pledge to honor her memory and to stand against violence.