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Death penalty sought for man accused of abducting, killing billionaire Eliza Fletcher

Prosecutors on Thursday announced that they are seeking the death penalty for the man accused of kidnapping Tennessee mom Eliza Fletcher during an early morning run and killing her.

Shelby County DA Steve Mulroy filed notice that his office will seek the death penalty against Cleotha Abston, who faces charges of abduction and murder in Fletcher’s case, Judge Lee Coffee said.

“This is not a decision taken lightly nor as a matter of course,” Mulroy said in a statement obtained by news station WATN.

“It is a grave decision involving a punishment I’ve publicly opposed as a policy matter. But as DA I must enforce the law despite personal opinion. After careful consideration of the facts in this case and similar cases, I believe this is what justice demands.”

Outside the courthouse, where Abston appeared for a status hearing Thursday, Mulroy told reporters that he believes the gruesome case meets the threshold for the prosecutors to pursue the death penalty.

State law says cases considered heinous, atrocious and cruel are eligible.

“We are alleging that applies in this case,” Mulroy said.

Eliza Fletcher
Eliza Fletcher

Mulroy said prosecutors had consulted Fletcher’s family about the decision to seek the death penalty for Abston and they support it.

Fletcher, a teacher and heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, was out for a jog around 4:30 a.m. Sept. 2 near the University of Memphis campus when she was forced into a dark GMC Terrain.

The 34-year-old mom died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head and blunt force trauma to the head, according to an autopsy report.

The next day, police arrested 38-year-old career criminal Abston — who had previously served 20 years for aggravated kidnapping in 2000 — and charged him in Fletcher’s abduction and murder.

Cleotha Abston
Cleotha Abston

Fletcher’s body was found days later in a wooded area in southern Memphis not far from where police said Abston was caught on surveillance footage cleaning out the inside of the car.

Abston quickly became the prime suspect in Fletcher’s murder after DNA testing on a pair of Champion slides left at the scene.

He has also been charged with an additional count of aggravated kidnapping and rape in a separate incident that took place a year before Fletcher’s abduction and murder.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigatio

The alleged victim in that case, Alicia Franklin, said she encountered Abston on an app in August 2021 and that they met in front of his apartment complex for the first time the following month.

Franklin alleged that Abston escorted her into a vacant apartment at gunpoint, blindfolded her with a T-shirt and threatened to kill her. She alleged he then forced her into a car and raped her in the backseat.

Franklin, who has filed suit against the department, also alleged cops took no evidence from the crime scene and showed her a dated picture of Abston that she was unable to identify.

surveillance footage
surveillance footage

Authorities had sent a rape kit out for analysis, but it wasn’t returned until early this September — just days after Fletcher disappeared.

A trial date for Abston has not been set.