Cleotha Abston, 38, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and tampering with evidence in connection with Eliza Fletcher’s death
The mother of accused killer Cleotha Abston has insisted her son is innocent, claiming the convicted felon is a ‘kind’, ‘good person’ and is once again being ‘railroaded’ for a violent crime.
Virgie Abston, 65, broke her silence for the first time since her 38-year-old son was arrested in connection to the abduction and murder of jogger Eliza Fletcher, 34, in Memphis, Tennessee on September 2.
Emerging from her low-income apartment complex in north Memphis, the mother told DailyMail.com she is standing by Abston, who declared his innocence to her from jail.
‘I talked to him and he said he didn’t do it,’ she recalled of their conversation. ‘He said [to me]: “They’re trying to put me in some stuff, mom”.’
‘I believe him,’ she continued. ‘I don’t believe he did it. If it comes out of his mouth, that’s what I believe.’
‘He’s just a good person, kind, lovable,’ she added, disputing depictions of her son as a monster.
Speaking outside her north Memphis apartment, the suspect’s mother, Virgie Abston, 65, told DailyMail.com she is standing by her son who she said declared his innocence to her from jail
Abston, who is accused of abducting and killing the 34-year-old Memphis teacher (right) has also been charged with separate charges related to a September 2021 rape of a woman
After a four-day search, Fletcher’s body was discovered near a dilapidated home, just yards from where police last spotted the vehicle she was forced into
Abston is accused of kidnapping and killing elementary school teacher and mother-of-two Fletcher after she set off on a pre-dawn jog near the University of Memphis campus on September 2.
He is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and tampering with evidence with the judge refusing him bail ahead of another hearing on September 19.
But just days after his arraignment, Abston was later rebooked at the Shelby County Jail on September 9 on separate charges related to a September 2021 rape of a woman.
The 2021 victim, Alicia Franklin, 22, spoke out Sunday, telling the the Institute for Public Service Reporting and The Daily Memphian that she met the man she knew as ‘Cleo’ on a dating app and thought she was going to die when he blindfolded her and put a gun to her neck.
She took a rape kit days after the attack, but investigators failed to complete its processing it for 11 months.
Abston Rape Victim Tells of Attack
The woman who was allegedly kidnapped and raped by convicted felon Cleotha Abston a year before he killed a Memphis jogger says she thought she was going to die when he blindfolded her and put a gun to her neck and raped her.
‘I really thought he was going to shoot me in the back of my head,’ Alicia Franklin, 22, told the Institute for Public Service Reporting and The Daily Memphian Sunday in her first public comments about her 2021 attack.
Abston, 38, who also goes by the last name Henderson, was charged earlier this month with killing mother-of-two Eliza Fletcher, an elementary school teacher and billionaire heiress, after forcing her into an SUV during her early morning jog on Sept. 2. He was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
Days later, he was charged with the Sept. 21, 2021 attack, based on a DNA match from Franklin’s rape kit, which had languished for nearly a year after being sent for testing days after the crime.
She told the Institute for Public Service Reporting and The Daily Memphian that she met a man she knew as ‘Cleo’ through a dating app and agreed to meet him at his apartment in southeast Memphis. It quickly turned violent.
‘I really thought he was going to shoot me in the back of my head,’ she said.
Franklin has since moved to find a more peaceful existence in Mississippi, but decided to go public because ‘I feel my story could help other women.’
The Abston case has received national attention, in part, because it illustrated a dysfunctional criminal justice system that allowed a violent felon to roam free, even after a long history of attacks. He served 20 years after being convicted in 2000 for the kidnapping of Memphis attorney Kemper Durand. Records show he was also previously arrested for raping a man and several assaults before he turned 16.
There are also questions about whether race played a role in the more recent police investigations. DNA from Fletcher’s abduction was processed within a day, while Franklin’s rape kit languished for 11 months without being completed.
Eliza Fletcher was white and from a wealthy family. Franklin is Black and taking online college courses as she works to escape a legacy of poverty, the outlets reported.
In a social media post, Franklin wrote, ‘My heart pours out for her (Fletcher) and her family.’
But during the interview, she said, ‘I was just an average Black girl in the city of Memphis, you know…. I just think it wasn’t a priority.’
She criticized the Memphis Police Department, accusing them of failing to pursue leads that could have solved her case, such as taking fingerprints from her phone or providing an updated photo that could have helped her identify her attacker, the outlets reported.
An MPD spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Franklin recalled that she’d met Henderson through a dating site called PlentyofFish.
‘He was like, ‘Well, you don’t ever respond to me. Can I please take you out?’ Franklin told the outlets.
Franklin recalled that it was raining the night of their date and that she ran toward his building to get out of the rain.
‘So, I’m walking with my head down because I had makeup on, I don’t want my makeup or anything to get messed up,’ she recalled. ‘So, he was trying to hug me, and I was like we can hug in the house. You know, it’s raining.’
It was dark and empty inside.
‘When I walked in the apartment, he put a gun to my neck and was like, ‘B—-, don’t move.’
She said he placed a black T-shirt over her head and led her through a back door and into a white Dodge Charger, where he attacked her. He later led her by gunpoint back into the apartment, she told the outlets.
‘Can you please let me go? Please let me go,’ she recalled telling him. ‘I said, ‘I don’t want to, you know, die this way.’ I said, ‘If you’re going to kill me, just kill me.’ Because at that point I didn’t feel like I’d get away,’’ she said.
After rummaging through her purse, he took some cash and left, she said.
A few days ago, the outlets reported, she posted a picture of Fletcher on her Facebook page along with the message:
‘I’ve been up all night thinking about this beautiful soul I can’t sleep I can’t eat! my heart pours out for her and her family especially those babies because I know what she experienced firsthand! may your soul rest in everlasting peace Eliza.’
During the interview, she offered advice to other victims.
‘The only thing I can really say is just fight for yourself because the justice system is not going to really help you,’ she reportedly said. ‘You know, that’s just my personal experience. You have to stand up for yourself. You have to fight for yourself, because nobody else will who will fight for you.’
Virgie, who had been in hiding since her son’s arrest, sells cans of soda and candy out of her ground-floor apartment, which often has neighborhood kids knocking on her door, handing her pocket change and walking off with drinks.
She said she is now struggling with the fact she has two sons in jail.
Her son Mario was also arrested on unrelated drug and weapon charges after police executed a search warrant of his apartment, where his brother Cleotha allegedly cleaned his clothes and vehicle after the killing.
She said that over the years, she’s had ‘all three of my boys gone.’
‘I just take one day at a time, one day at a time baby,’ she told DailyMail.com. ‘Things have been going on so much.’
Even as she defended her sons, she distanced herself from their actions by saying, ‘The boys are on their own. What they do, I do not know.’
‘They haven’t told me nothing, I don’t know nothing,’ she added.
She spoke of the fact Cleotha has spent nearly his entire adult life in prison, released in 2020 after serving two decades for the 2000 abduction of Memphis lawyer Kemper Durand.
Abston, who is accused of taking the keen jogger, drove with her in his GMC terrain for an hour and a half before the vehicle was spotted turning into the road where her body was discovered. Officers searched underneath the porch of the house where she was found
Memphis Police Officers were seen searching the area where Eliza was found. She remained hidden by long grass and foliage for four days before discovery with blood seeping into the soil
She described it as an unfairly harsh sentence for a 16-year-old boy, which she blames on the justice system.
Cleotha Abston, pictured in 2000, was first arrested when he was just 11 years old and was in and out of juvenile court when 16 times in five years before he kidnapped a lawyer
‘They held Cleo in the juvy,’ she said. ‘They railroaded him, had him sign the papers without no parent around, without our consent.
‘We didn’t know he signed no papers. We didn’t know nothing.
‘He left me when he was 16,’ she continued. ‘They took 20 years of my son’s life. They need to fix that prison [system].’
Virgie maintains a deep distrust of authorities, particularly against cops.
‘I don’t know why they do what they do,’ she said. ‘I don’t deal with the police. I don’t deal with the police, period.’
Abston will appear in court on September 19 for another hearing, where he is expected to enter a plea on all the charges he faces including the new rape case.
Authorities confirmed that a body found in long grass near an abandoned property was that of Fletcher, following a four-day search.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy confirmed that the incident was ‘isolated’ and that Fletcher had never met her attacker before.
Abston is alleged to have approached her and forced her into his SUV vehicle after a brief struggle around 4am.
She was reported missing when she did not return home from her regular morning run, and her cellphone and water bottle were discovered in front of a house owned by the university.
An obituary for the teacher described her as a ‘born athlete’, who ‘found great joy’ in her morning runs and was ‘not afraid to be vulnerable.
Fletcher, a wife, mother of two and a kindergarten teacher, (pictured) was jogging near the University of Memphis campus when a man forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle about 4am on September 2
Fletcher was reported missing when she did not return home from her regular morning run
It comes after court documents reveal that he was previously convicted of raping a man when he was a teenager.
Abston was just 11 when he first appeared in Shelby County Juvenile Court, in Memphis, Tennessee, charged with theft of property $500 or less.
He was detained 16 times from October 1995 to May 2000 for rape, aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon.
Records show that Abston was accused of raping a man and was placed in the custody of Shelby County’s Youth Services Bureau.
Two weeks after he was released from his final spell at the SCYSB to his mother’s care, he was transferred to adult court for kidnapping lawyer Kemper Durand.
He was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the offense, and was released in 2020 before violently bundling Fletcher into his SUV and allegedly killing her.