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After 2021 rape linked to suspect in Eliza Fletcher's murder, Mid-South leaders look for ways to speed up rape kit processing

TBI said because of short staffing & high volume of rape kits submitted, it took 11 months to link 2021 DNA to Cleotha Henderson, who appeared in court Thursday.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Friday, the man accused by Memphis Police of kidnapping and killing Eliza Fletcher earlier this month, Cleotha Henderson, appeared in court in connection to 2021 rape charges 

The TBI said it took 11 months for DNA to link Henderson to that 2021 rape case, with initial results coming back just days before Fletcher's death.

RELATED: Suspect in Eliza Fletcher's murder appears in court on 2021 rape charge

That's sparked a new outcry from city, state and federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to find solutions on how to test rape kits more quickly in Memphis and across Tennessee. 

"It's totally unfortunate because it speaks to where the priorities are," Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis told ABC24 Friday.

For Rep. Parkinson, the Henderson case brought back old frustrations with fellow state lawmakers. 

"They chose not to fund that bill that would, in essence, would have protected the women of Tennessee," Rep. Parkinson added.

In 2014, he proposed legislation which eventually stalled in committee, which would've required law enforcement submit rape kits within 10 days and the TBI process them within six months.

"That six months part would have possibly averted, you know, the situation with Mrs. Fletcher," Rep. Parkinson added, who promised he'll reintroduce that bill next session. 

Credit: WATN
Cleotha Henderson, aka Abston, in court

RELATED: Backlogged sexual assault test kit issue resurfaces in Memphis

The week, Memphis Police leaders and the Memphis City Council also debated how to speed up local rape kit testing and discussed how to open and pay for its own evidence collection center.

"If you are telling me you need an extra $1, $2 million a year to expedite every single test, we need to look at the opportunity," Memphis City Council member Chase Carlisle said Tuesday.

Nationally, Tennessee's U.S. Senators, Republicans Bill Hargerty and Marsha Blackburn, are spearheading a federal crime bill. The 'Restoring Law and Order Act' would include more funding for state law enforcement agencies, including the TBI, and study how to fix delays in returning rape kit evidence. 

"Why is it taking so long to get these processed when it is a violent crime?" Sen. Blackburn said. "Why does it take so long to get these long to get these returned to law enforcement so that they are able to apprehend these criminals?"

A TBI spokesperson said the agency is in the process of hiring four people in the Jackson Crime Lab, which handles Shelby County rape kits that led the state in those submitted last year.

RELATED: Suspect charged in Fletcher murder also charged for 2021 rape, kidnapping

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