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

The Tennessee man charged with the kidnapping and murder of a woman who disappeared Friday while jogging in Memphis has a lengthy juvenile record dating back to 1995 when he was 11 years old, court documents show.

Cleotha Abston has been charged with various crimes every year from 1995 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.

The documents list multiple offenses, including convictions for rape from 1998 when he was 14 and kidnapping charges from 2000 when he was 16.

Eliza Fletcher.The Memphis Police Department

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

“Due to the seriousness of the crime, the statute says this information about the crime can be released even though Abston was a minor at the time,” Hogan said. “No information has been released about when, to whom or where this rape took place. The rest of his juvenile file is sealed and there is no other data to release.”

Abston was taken into custody by the county’s child welfare agency after being convicted of rape, Hogan said.

In May 2000, he was charged with aggravated theft 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 attorney, to an ATM so he could withdraw cash, but Durand escaped after yelling for help.

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

“I was supposed to use my debit card to get money for Cleotha Abston. It was fortunate that an armed, uniformed guard from the Memphis Housing Authority just happened to enter the Mapco station.’

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

Durand wrote that he was “extremely lucky” that he escaped, noting that he felt Abston had “absolutely no regrets” about the crime. Durand passed away 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 on Wednesday that Abston had been sentenced to “100% with 85% eligibility,” meaning he could receive credit for time served and “program points” after 85% of his time.

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

“Those credits + the 512 days already served allowed Abston to be released at 85% of his sentence, although he is believed to have served his entire sentence,” Carter said.

Carter said the department had no authority to check Abston after his release.

Although Abston has not been convicted of Fletcher’s death, Tennessee Governor Randy McNally said Tuesday that if Abston had served 24 years in prison, Fletcher would still be alive.

“It’s just outrageous that this person hasn’t served his full sentence for his past crimes,” McNally tweeted.

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

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

Security videos showed “passing a black GMC property and then waiting for the victim to drive by,” according to an indictment. A man got out of the car, ran to Fletcher and forced her to sit in the passenger seat.

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

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 indicted on several charges, including first degree murder and kidnapping. A judge withdrew his bail on Wednesday during an arraignment.

Information about Abston’s lawyer was not immediately available and his family could not be reached at the phone numbers listed for them.

Juliette Arcodia, Anthony Cusumano and Debra Jones contributed.