Tenn. governor asked to investigate system advocates say enabled Eliza Fletcher’s murder

Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 7:23 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Criminal justice and victim advocacy groups want accountability and answers after the kidnapping and murder of Memphis jogger Eliza Fletcher.

Advocates say the system failed to protect her from Cleotha Abston-Henderson, the man accused in the case.

On Friday morning, Henderson will be back in court, but not for the Fletcher case.

He’s facing rape charges from another case. The victim, Alicia Franklin, is suing the City of Memphis for failing to investigate the 2021 case and subsequently failing to prevent Fletcher’s death.

A group of advocates say that’s an example of why the governor needs to take special action to make sure tragedies like these don’t happen again.

The University of Memphis remembers Eliza Fletcher as a former player for the UofM Women’s...
The University of Memphis remembers Eliza Fletcher as a former player for the UofM Women’s Tigers Soccer Team.(University of Memphis Women's Soccer Twitter)

“He was a bad apple, you know... what I mean is this guy was prone to do evil,” said Matthew Charles with the national criminal justice non-profit Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

Charles is calling the Henderson case an example of failed policies in Tennessee.

On Wednesday, a letter was sent to Governor Bill Lee from FAMM and People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws (PERL).

They want to appoint a special investigator to look at the system that enabled Henderson to allegedly kidnap and murder Fletcher while the mother of two was out on an early morning run back in September.

Court records show Henderson was detained 16 times as a juvenile for a variety of charges including aggravated assault and rape.

At 16 years old, Henderson was tried as an adult for the kidnapping of a Memphis defense attorney.

In 2000, at the age of 16, Abston kidnapped Memphis Defense Attorney Kemper Durand (right).
In 2000, at the age of 16, Abston kidnapped Memphis Defense Attorney Kemper Durand (right).(Action News 5)

He served 20 of his 24-year sentence and was released early due to credits he received for serving jail time before his sentence and for participating in the prison’s job program.

Charles says the Tennessee Department of Correction needs to take a serious look at how they administer good credit for early release.

“The good time is a good thing because it allows those who go in to come out changed, come out with a skill, come out with a trade, return to their communities and families,” said Charles. “But it’s to those that deserve it, and this individual wasn’t deserving of 10 days.”

Henderson was released in 2020.

On Sep. 21, 2021, nearly a year before Fletcher’s kidnapping, Franklin filed her rape kit the day she was assaulted.

The DNA rape data was finally put into the TBI’s system nearly a year later on Sep. 5, one day after Henderson’s DNA was salvaged during the investigation of Fletcher’s disappearance.

The rape kit returned as a match for Henderson.

Critics say if the rape kit was tested earlier, it could have potentially prevented Fletcher’s killing.

During a two-day ad-hoc legislative committee hearing on the Fletcher case, the TBI director blamed the 11-month delay in testing the rape kit on a serious backlog due to understaffing.

Charles says they need more answers.

“A special investigator will be able to look into it precisely and pinpoint what it is that needs to be done at these agencies to prevent this from ever happening again,” said Charles.

Charles says it’s important to find someone outside of law enforcement to conduct this investigation.

Action News 5 reached out to Governor Lee’s office for a comment on the request for a special investigator.

The spokesperson simply said they received the letter.

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