Eliza Fletcher, a mother of two and a kindergarten teacher, “would be alive today” if her accused killer had been jailed for a prior rape he allegedly committed, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said on Wednesday.
Fletcher, 34, was jogging near her home on the University of Memphis campus on Sept. 2 during the early morning hours when she was abducted, forced into an SUV, and murdered.
Cleotha Abston, a 38-year-old career criminal who spent decades behind bars for kidnapping and also appeared in court for prior rape cases, was arrested several days later in connection to Fletcher’s murder. He was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals after investigators found his DNA on a pair of sandals recovered near where Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit.
Blackburn said on Sept. 14 that Fletcher wouldn’t have been murdered if officials hadn’t taken a year to process a rape kit backlog from Abston’s alleged victim in a suspected rape incident that happened in September 2021.
“Tragically, the rape kit was returned the same day that Fletcher’s body was discovered with DNA allegedly matching that of Fletcher’s killer,” the senator told a press briefing on Wednesday. “Had it not taken so long, Eliza Fletcher would be alive today and her killer would be behind bars.”
Blackburn made the remark while hosting a news conference where a number of Republican senators called out Democrats’ “pro-crime policies,” while also accusing “the radical left” of using soft-on-crime policies to embolden criminals who are making American cities and suburbs less safe.
In a Sept. 14 letter (pdf) to President Joe Biden, Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Blackburn jointly pointed out that progressive bail policies, and “anti-law-enforcement movements” are among the reasons behind an increase in violent crime in various major U.S. cities over the past two years.
“The crime wave that’s rolling across our country is tragic … we’re seeing record-high levels of crime in every major city—Memphis saw a record high this past year alone,” Hagerty said during the briefing.
Calls for End to Soft-on-Crime Policies
Following Fletcher’s murder and a Memphis shooting rampage that killed four people, Blackburn and Hagerty announced the “Restoring Law and Order Act”—which will increase resources for local and state police to help them in battling violent crime and make the investigative process more efficient to keep repeat offenders off the street.
“Weak on crime prosecutors, relaxed sentencing, and anti-police protests have made upholding justice all the more difficult for the brave men and women in law enforcement,” Blackburn said in a statement. “Americans don’t want the Democrats’ ‘Defund the Police’ agenda; they want criminals behind bars and police officers on the streets.”
Additionally, the new bill will also require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate prolonged wait times for DNA tests and rape kits that keep authorities from quickly arresting suspects.
“Why is it taking so long to get these processed when it is a violent crime? Why does it take so long to get these returned to law enforcement so that they are able to apprehend these criminals?” Blackburn questioned during Wednesday’s briefing.
Fletcher’s body was recovered on Sept. 5 by Memphis officials near Victor Street and Person Avenue. Investigators said surveillance footage of the early morning abduction depicted a man, matching Abston, approaching Fletcher and forcing her into an SUV after a brief struggle.
Abston has an extensive criminal record and was convicted in 2000 for kidnapping. He served 20 years in prison, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. He forced an attorney into the trunk of a car and forced him to withdraw cash from an ATM.
The repeat offender’s earliest appearance in juvenile court was in 1995—when he was just aged 12. He appeared in court again in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 for “theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon, and rape,” according to court records via the Commercial Appeal obtained by Breitbart.