Tennessee Man Sentenced to 80 Years for 2021 Rape, Ahead of 2022 Teacher Murder Charges

Tennessee Man Sentenced to 80 Years for 2021 Rape, Ahead of 2022 Teacher Murder Charges
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Mem­phis, TN — May 18, 2024 — A Ten­nessee man was sen­tenced to 80 years in prison on Fri­day for a 2021 rape and oth­er charges, just a year before he was charged with the high-pro­file kid­nap­ping and mur­der of a school teacher in 2022.

Cleotha Abston, 40, received a 40-year sen­tence for aggra­vat­ed rape, 20 years for aggra­vat­ed kid­nap­ping, and anoth­er 20 years for being a felon in pos­ses­sion of a weapon. The sen­tences will run con­sec­u­tive­ly, accord­ing to Shel­by Coun­ty Crim­i­nal Court Judge Lee Coffee.

Abston was con­vict­ed in April 2024 of rap­ing a woman at gun­point in Sep­tem­ber 2021 after meet­ing her on a social dat­ing site. The vic­tim said Abston cov­ered her face, walked her out­side, and raped her in the back­seat of his girl­friend’s vehi­cle. Judge Cof­fee said Abston treat­ed the vic­tim with “excep­tion­al cruelty.”

This con­vic­tion came just a year before Abston was charged with the kid­nap­ping and mur­der of Eliza Fletch­er, a 34-year-old kinder­garten teacher, in Sep­tem­ber 2022. 

Fletch­er was abduct­ed while on an ear­ly morn­ing run near the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mem­phis, and her body was found days lat­er. Pros­e­cu­tors say they will pur­sue the death penal­ty if Abston is con­vict­ed in Fletcher’s case.

Abston’s lawyer, Juni Gan­guli, said they plan to appeal the 2021 rape con­vic­tion and file a motion for a new tri­al. Gan­guli claimed they had a “strong defense” and did not believe Abston raped, kid­napped, or had a gun.

The 2021 rape case went unre­solved for over a year due to a delay in pro­cess­ing the sex­u­al assault kit, author­i­ties said. This delay has led the Ten­nessee Leg­is­la­ture to pass a law requir­ing quar­ter­ly report­ing on sex­u­al assault kit test­ing times.

With the con­sec­u­tive 80-year sen­tence, legal experts say Abston is effec­tive­ly receiv­ing a life sen­tence, even before the poten­tial out­come of the high-pro­file 2022 mur­der case.

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