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Man charged with killing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher to go to trial by end of 2024, court says

The state reportedly wants to try him first for the rape of Alicia Franklin as prosecutors argues there is less evidence to go through in that case.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — The man accused of kidnapping and killing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher — in addition to being accused of raping another woman — will go to trial by the end of next year. 

Cleotha Abston appeared before a judge on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, facing charges in two separate cases. 

Prosecutors argued that because the case involving Alicia Franklin has less information and evidence to go through, they'll be ready to go to trial faster than the fletcher case. They said they're hoping to start jury selection early next year. 

Still, the Eliza Fletcher case is being pushed back because Abston recently got two new lawyers, and they said they need more time to go through the evidence. 

On Friday, the judge promised to start that trial by the end of 2024.

The previous public defender for Abston withdrew from the case due to a conflict of interest. A judge granted the motion allowing Jennifer Case to withdraw during a hearing Aug. 3, 2023.

Abston could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder, so under state law, he is allowed two attorneys. In August, according to court records, the lead attorney was listed as Juni Ganguli.

Fletcher was running on the University of Memphis campus when police said she was forced into a vehicle after a struggle about 4 a.m. Sept 2, 2022. Investigators said her body was found Sept. 5 behind a vacant home after a massive search lasting more than three days.

U.S. Marshals arrested Abston a day after the abduction after police said they detected his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit.

Abston was indicted by a grand jury on Jan. 25, 2023, on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and tampering with evidence. He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. During a hearing in court Thursday, July 6, 2023, Judge Lee Coffee said Shelby County D.A. Steve Mulroy filed notice with the court that prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Abston.

After he was charged with killing Fletcher, Abston was charged with raping a woman in September 2021 — about a year before Fletcher was killed. He was not arrested on rape charges before Fletcher's killing because evidence from a sexual assault kit test had not been available at the time, authorities have said.

Abston also faces charges of identity theft and of being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun in other cases. He also previously kidnapped a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000 when he was 16-years-old. He spent 20 years in prison for that crime.

No trial date has been set. Abston remains in jail on a bond of $2,278,500 and is due back in court on Sept. 15.

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