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Tipsheet

Felon Charged in Murder of Kidnapped Teacher Was Released Early From Previous Abduction Conviction

Townhall Media

The kidnapping suspect accused of abducting and now-charged with murdering 34-year-old schoolteacher Eliza "Liza" Fletcher, whose slain body was found by Memphis police Monday, has a previous abduction conviction and was released early from state prison in 2020, according to court records viewed by Townhall.

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Townhall's review of 38-year-old Cleotha "Cleo" Dewayne Abston's extensive criminal history shows that he spent 20 years in a state penitentiary after he was convicted of kidnapping an attorney in a similar violent fashion back in 2000 when the suspect was age 16. Abston kidnapped Memphis-based criminal defense lawyer Kemper Durand at gunpoint on the victim's way home from the office and demanded his car keys. Durand was then forced into the cold darkness of his vehicle's trunk for several hours while Abston, alongside an accomplice, drove the victim's car throughout the city. The victim was pulled out from time to time to repeatedly withdraw cash from several ATM machines and hand the money over to Abston. Durand's assailants fled—and were later captured—when a nearby security guard aided his rescue at a Mapco gas station.

"I was extremely lucky that I was able to escape from the custody of Cleotha Abston," Durand wrote in a victim impact statement, expressing gratitude that an armed, uniformed Memphis Housing Authority guard happened to be at the scene when he yelled for yelp. "It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped."

The Commercial Appeal, a daily newspaper in Memphis, reported that Durand was alarmed by the teenager's lengthy rap sheet. Durand mentioned it took more than a year for Abston to sign the guilty plea, characterizing the refusal as "jailhouse braggadocio — being a tough guy and showing off to the other jail inmates."

"This makes it obvious that he feels absolutely no remorse for the crime; rather, he wants to show the other guys in the jail how tough he is," Durand wrote, recommending the maximum possible sentence possible "just to keep [Abston] out of society." Abston's history in the juvenile court system dates back as early as 1995 when he was 12-years-old, Durand's statement cited. Abston appeared in juvenile court records in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 for charges including theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon, and rape.

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Durand, who died in February 2013 approximately seven years before Abston's release, had testified at the sentencing hearing for Abston's co-defendant Marquette Deshawn Cobbins, portraying the man as an "unwilling accomplice" and not the attacker who accosted him that fateful evening. Cobbins was "at the wrong place with the wrong person at the wrong time," reads an obituary page by Durand's colleagues at the Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey Johnson & Mitchell (THHJM) law firm, recounting how Durand said that Cobbins had pleaded at the time with his friend, Abston, to "stop the car, let this man out, give him his keys, and go!"

Abston was found guilty of aggravated robbery and especially aggravated kidnapping in Durand's abduction. The convicted felon was sentenced to 24 years behind bars for the kidnapping offense and 11 years incarceration for the robbery charge, but it appears the sentences ran concurrently. In 2003 and again in 2009, Abston filed petitions for post-conviction relief but his efforts were swatted down. Still, Abston was released from state prison early in November 2020, according to the Felony Offender Information Lookup (FOIL) application by the Tennessee Department of Correction. According to FOX13 Investigates, Abston was eligible for early release after serving 85% of his 24-year prison sentence; hence, he would have served 20 years. 


Abbott's supervision status is labeled "INACTIVE," meaning he was no longer under state supervision.


The state's DOC communications director Dorinda Carter confirmed to Townhall that Abston's sentences were concurrent and that he was not under any supervision when he was released early, thanks to "statutorily required" program credits and pre-trial jail credits that were applied. WMC Action News 5 reported that Abston received these credits for serving jail time before his sentence and for participating in the prison's job program where he worked in the kitchen, laundry, cleaner, and as a cook. Tennessee Lt. Governor Randy McNally tweeted Tuesday that he believes had Abston served his full sentence that "Eliza Fletcher would be alive today."

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Fletcher, the granddaughter of the late business magnate Joseph Orgill III, was last seen wearing a pink shirt and purple running shorts while she was jogging early Friday morning around 4:30 a.m. near the University of Memphis campus. The deceased heiress of the Tennessee-headquartered worldwide hardware distributor Orgill Inc., which touts $3 billion in annual sales, was known by St. Mary's Episcopal School, a local private school for girls, as a beloved schoolteacher for junior kindergarten and the mother of two young sons she has left behind.

The school emphasized that Liza embodied the song that St. Mary's students sing weekly in Early Childhood chapel: "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine." During the COVID-19 pandemic, Fletcher made a sing-along YouTube video (now unlisted) of the popular gospel song for her students learning remotely at home.

Ex-FBI special agent Jennifer Coffindaffer told NewsNation that Durand, Abston's first kidnapping victim, was a former co-worker of Fletcher's uncle, Michael "Mike" Keeney, who is, to date, of legal counsel at the Lewis Thomason law firm's Memphis office. Keeney joined THHJM, the very law firm that mourned Durand's passing in the tribute post, as an associate and later a managing partner. Keeney, a well-connected member of the Tennessee Sports Wagering Advisory Commission as well as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, was at one point on the board of directors for Orgill, Inc. He had married Fletcher's aunt, formerly Anne Orgill.

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"I think this is a very significant clue, and I'm sure certainly that the FBI, the US Marshalls and the TBI is looking closely at this relationship," Coffindaffer said, stating on-air that she believes the attack was "not random."

According to a two-page affidavit obtained by Townhall that was filed in support of Abston's arrest over the weekend in connection to Fletcher's abduction, the court document reveals disturbing details about the case.

A surveillance camera filmed a man "aggressively" running towards Fletcher in midtown Memphis before forcing her into the passenger side of a dark-colored GMC Terrain. "During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle," the affidavit reads. Investigators found a pair of Champion slides at the abduction site, in which DNA found from the footwear matched Abston's profile from a prior sample logged in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national DNA database created and maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Other surveillance footage showed Abston wearing the same sandals a day earlier and the suspect's cellphone data placed him near the intersection at which Fletcher was last spotted and around the time of her disappearance.

The black SUV was found by members of the U.S. Marshals Services-Two Rivers Violent Fugitive Task Force in a parking lot near Abston's residence. When officers stopped Abston, he attempted to flee but was taken into custody Saturday, the affidavit says. Abston declined to provide investigators with the location of the victim.


"As the abduction was violent with, as captured on video, the suspect waiting for, then rushing toward the victim, then forcing the victim into the vehicle, where she was confined and removed...it is believed and supported by the facts and the physical evidence that [Fletcher] suffered serious injury," the affidavit says. 

The day Fletcher went missing, Abston was observed cleaning the interior of his vehicle with floor cleaner and washing his clothes in the sink of his brother's house. "[I]t is probable and apparent from witness statements that these injuries left evidence, e.g., blood, in the vehicle that the Defendant cleaned," the affidavit says.

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Amid the days-long search for Fletcher, authorities have confirmed that the body found on Labor Day afternoon is the teacher's, the Memphis Police Department announced in a tweet as well as a Facebook post Tuesday morning. Additional charges of first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping have been added for Abston, who is already facing counts of especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence. Abston has also been slapped with charges of identity theft, theft of property $1,000 or less, and fraudulent use of a debit or credit card of $1,000 or less, per Shelby County Sheriff's Office booking page.

On the day before Fletcher's abduction, a woman told police that her CashApp and Wisely Card were being used at gas stations without her knowledge or consent, FOX13 reported. The woman said she left her wallet at a Malco Theatres location, and investigators found that Abston, a member of a cleaning service, had stolen it.

According to jail records, Abston is being held at the Shelby County Jail on $500,000 bond, which grew another $10,000 overnight, and has a court date scheduled next Wednesday morning following Tuesday's first court appearance. Abston, donning a face mask and a green jail-issued jumpsuit, was silent during the initial 15-minute hearing, per WREG News Channel 3's courtroom live stream. A court-appointed attorney was assigned to Abston who indicated to the judge that he's unable to afford bond or legal representation.

Abston, who goes by the monikers "Wild Child" and "Pookie," which is slang for a pipe used to smoke drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine, wrote about getting out of prison on social media during his previous incarceration.

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In 2019, Abston wrote on Facebook: "I'm a prisoner in my own mind, I feel like these walls talking to me." Another of Abston's 2019 posts reads: "Mfs always see my folks and be on some wats up with pookie wats up wit wild like they really f*ck wit a n*gg* but don't f*ck wit no n*gg* I been gone all this time and have a FB page MF if u f*ck with me u would've made sure I was straight fym get tf out of here with that bs been doin this shyt by my mfn self I'm screaming F*ck u n*gg*s and b*ches keep the same energy wen they free me.."


It seems like Abston knew about his release as early as 2017. "I CANT WAIT UNTIL 2020," he posted on Facebook. Abston complained about sleeping on a hard bed while incarcerated and began a countdown to his release. "The count down has begun...free the real!!" Abston wrote in February 2019. "I GOT 364 DAYS LEFT, I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS AFTER 20YEARS! !" Abston typed in November of that year.

Then on Nov. 7, 2020, Abston declared on Facebook: "I just got out." Abston received a warm reception from some of Facebook friends welcoming him home, while a dozen others reacted with the angry emoji.


Abston also posted photos of guns before and once made one his profile picture with the caption "WILD MOB."

WMC Action News 5 reported that his juvenile court records show that Abston was part of the "LMG" gang, the "Lemoyne Gardens Ganstas." A photo of a Lemoyne Gardens sign was posted by Abston on Facebook. The career criminal is still Facebook friends with Cobbins who was sentenced in the Durand kidnapping.



Abston's father, 66-year-old Cleo Brown Henderson, is currently at the South Central Correctional Center for second-degree murder and is scheduled to be released in 2044. The trial court sentenced Henderson as a Range II, violent offender to 40 years, according to a denial of an appeal that affirms the judgement.

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A neighbor of Abston's described the kidnapping suspect as a "pervert," who once snuck up behind her and propositioned her, as well as other women in the apartment complex, for sex, according to the DailyMail. The outlet reported that Abston would sit in his vehicle gawking at women walking by or sitting on stoops.

"He kept waving me over to him and was like, 'I've got $100.' He tried to catch my niece too, tried to get her to come into the apartment with him..." another neighbor told DailyMail. "He creepy; he really creepy."

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