Man charged in jogger abduction kidnapped prominent attorney in 2000

Man charged in jogger abduction kidnapped prominent attorney in 2000

The man charged with kidnapping a Tennessee woman jogging near the University of Memphis last week spent 20 years behind bars for a previous kidnapping. U.S. marshals arrested 38-year-old Cleotha Abston on Saturday after police detected his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Eliza Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit.

Police also linked the vehicle — a GMC Terrain — they believe Fletcher was forced into to a person at a residence where Abston was staying.

Memphis police said Abston has been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence in Fletcher’s disappearance.

When authorities arrived at Abston’s last known address, they found the GMC Terrain in question, with a passenger-side tail light damaged, reported CBS affiliate WREG-TV, which obtained a copy of the police affidavit. When Abston saw authorities, he tried to run, but he was eventually captured by U.S. marshals.

While Fletcher has not been found, Memphis police said in the affidavit they believe she was seriously injured in the abduction, which was caught on surveillance video. Authorities have said Fletcher, 34, was jogging around 4 a.m. on Friday when a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle. Fletcher was reported missing when she did not return home that morning.

Abston previously kidnapped a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000, the Commercial Appeal reported. When he was just 16 years old, Abston forced Kemper Durand into the trunk of his own car at gunpoint. After several hours, Abston took Durand out and forced him to drive to a Mapco gas station to withdraw money from an ATM.

At the station, an armed Memphis Housing Authority guard walked in and Durand yelled for help. Abston ran away but was found and arrested. He pleaded guilty in 2001 to especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery, according to court records. He received a 24-year sentence.

Durand, in a victim impact statement, wrote, “I was extremely lucky that I was able to escape from the custody of Cleotha Abston. …It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped,” the Commercial Appeal reported. Durand noted that it took over a year for Abston to sign the guilty plea, calling the refusal “jailhouse braggadocio.”

Durand also detailed Abston’s lengthy history in the juvenile court system. In the years before the kidnapping, Abston had been charged with theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon, and rape, according to Durand’s statement.

Durand died in 2013, seven years before Abston would be released in November 2020 at age 36. In the two years since his release, there were no further documented charges against Abston in Shelby County prior to his Saturday arrest, the Commercial Appeal reported.

Eliza Fletcher disappearance: What we know on the day 4 of the search and about the arrest https://t.co/3jv9jmqAGc

— Commercial Appeal (@memphisnews) September 5, 2022

Online court records do not show if Abston has a lawyer who can comment on his behalf. An arraignment has been set for Tuesday.

Fletcher is the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, a Memphis hardware businessman and philanthropist. The family has offered a $50,000 reward.

On Saturday, Fletcher’s family released a statement, read by a man who identified himself as her uncle, and obtained by WREG-TV. He read the statement on behalf of Fletcher’s mother and father, her husband and children, and her brother.

“We want to start by thanking everyone for their prayers and outpouring of support,” the uncle said. “Liza has touched the hearts of many people — and it shows.”

He said the family has met with and shared information with the police, whom he said are working “tirelessly” to help find Fletcher.

“More than anything we want to see Liza return home safely,” he said. “The family has offered a reward for any information that leads to her safe return. We believe that someone knows what happened, and can help.”

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