Prosecutors seek death penalty for Cleotha Abston

Left: booking photo of Cleotha Abston, suspected of kidnapping Eliza Fletcher (photo via Shelby County jail). Center: Fletcher smiling in a photo. Right: surveillance footage of Fletcher jogging (images of Fletcher via Memphis Police).

Prosecutors in Tennessee will be seeking the death penalty against a 39-year-old man accused of kidnapping a kindergarten teacher who was out on an early morning jog last year and brutally killing her.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy — who staunchly opposes the death penalty as a matter of policy — on Thursday formally announced his office would be seeking the death penalty against Cleotha Abston for the 2022 abduction and slaying of Eliza Fletcher, a wife and mother to two children, authorities confirmed to Law&Crime.

Abston is accused of severely beating Fletcher, who had multiple fractures to her face, before shooting her in the back of the head execution-style.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee V. Coffee on Thursday said the manner in which Abston allegedly killed Fletcher was “heinous, atrocious and cruel,” the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.

Surveillance video obtained by authorities appears to show Fletcher being forced into a dark-colored SUV around 4 a.m. on Sept. 2, 2022, while she was jogging in the 3800 block of Central Avenue, near the University of Memphis campus. The footage showed a person exiting the parked SUV as Fletcher passed by, then running toward her, grabbing her, and forcing her into the passenger’s side door of the vehicle. Authorities said they found evidence of a struggle between Fletcher and her kidnapper.

After authorities discovered Fletcher’s body on Sept. 5, Abston was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping. He had already been charged the previous day with aggravated kidnapping and unlawful carrying of a weapon.

Fletcher’s body was found about 7 miles from where she was taken in a “moderate to advanced state of decomposition,” the autopsy report stated.

Prosecutors seek death penalty for Cleotha Abston

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