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First Woman Allegedly Raped By Memphis Jogger Murder Suspect Sues City

Officials allegedly linked Cleotha Abston's DNA to an unsolved kidnapping and rape in 2021 while investigating Eliza Fletcher's murder. The victim, Alicia Franklin, says Fletcher's murder might've been avoided if investigators had worked harder on her case. 

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Memphis Teacher Eliza Fletcher Found Dead After Abduction
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The previously unidentified woman allegedly kidnapped and raped by murder suspect Cleotha Abston has come forward and sued the City of Memphis.

Alicia Franklin, 22, spoke with local reporters about her harrowing 2021 ordeal, allegedly perpetrated by the man accused of the high-profile murder of Memphis mother and schoolteacher, Eliza Fletcher, according to the Daily Memphian.

Investigators’ rush to test DNA found near the crime scene where Fletcher was abducted on Sept. 2 also allegedly linked Abston to Franklin’s 2021 unsolved kidnapping and rape.

In Friday’s lawsuit, Franklin claimed that, had authorities properly investigated her kidnapping and rape after it occurred 11 months earlier, they could have prevented Fletcher’s murder, according to NBC Memphis affiliate WMC-TV.

Franklin told the Daily Memphian that she met Abston, whom she referred to as “Cleo,” while on a dating app in the summer of 2021. On Sept. 21, 2021 — a year before Fletcher’s murder — Franklin said she and Abston made plans to go to the Olive Garden and agreed to meet at an apartment in southeast Memphis.

A police handout of Cleotha Abston

According to WMC-TV, Franklin went to The Lakes at Ridgeway Apartments — where Abston was ultimately arrested for Fletcher’s murder. Abston, she said, worked as a maintenance worker there.

“When I walked in the apartment, he put a gun into my neck and was like, ‘Bitch, don’t move,’” Franklin recalled to the Daily Memphian. Franklin said the apartment was pitch black and that she presumed the home was under construction.

In a recent interview with Good Morning America, Franklin said she was four months pregnant at the time of the crime.

“I told him I was pregnant,” said Franklin. “He didn’t care.”

Abston allegedly wrapped a black t-shirt around Franklin’s head and forced her at gunpoint through the empty apartment, out a sliding glass backdoor, and into a white Dodge Charger, where he allegedly proceeded to rape her.

RELATED: Two North Carolina Teenagers Reported Missing Have Been Found Shot To Death

“I really thought he was going to shoot me in the back of my head,” Franklin told the local outlet.

Per the filing, Abston allegedly rummaged through Franklin’s purse and took her money following the alleged rape, leaving her in the vacant apartment and telling her not to move until she heard him drive away from the scene.

“So when I did hear the slide door open, and him get in the car, and then I heard the car drive off, I just ran out,” Franklin told the Daily Memphian.

Once her rapist was gone, Franklin reported the assault to authorities and sought treatment at a local rape crisis center. A rape kit was performed and DNA evidence was obtained from Franklin’s person. However, Franklin said investigators failed to take evidence directly from the crime scene, such as fingerprints, which she said could have been lifted from the apartment’s back door.

Franklin initially thought investigators would quickly arrest Abston, since she'd provided them with his name, phone number, details about his social media and the make and model of vehicle, according to WMC-TV. But for 11 months, no arrests were made.

Franklin said she didn’t think authorities cared about her case, even though she regularly called for updates, according to the Daily Memphian.

“I called back again like maybe four months later, and they was like, ‘Well, just keep in mind that it can take anywhere from a year or two to process a rape kit,’" she said they told her. "So at that point, I gave up."

The filing also alleges officers even included Abston's photo in a lineup for Franklin, during which she identified him; between that and her account, it argues that there was more than enough to arrest him then. The suit also cited Abston’s lengthy criminal history, which Franklin says should have indicated Abston’s alleged propensity for violence.

Still, nothing happened with Franklin's case until Abston became the prime suspect in the murder of Eliza Fletcher, who was kidnapped while on a pre-dawn run earlier this month. Her body was found three days later behind an abandoned duplex.

Investigators found DNA evidence on a pair of sandals left at the kidnapping scene and put a rush on testing, which yielded results in only 18 hours.

On Sept. 5 — the same day Fletcher’s body was found but a day after Abston was arrested in her case — the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation finally tested the DNA obtained from Franklin’s rape kit, according to WMC-TV.

Franklin believes that Fletcher’s murder could have been avoided if investigators had done more.

“I was just an average Black girl in the city of Memphis, you know,” she told the Memphian. “I just think it wasn’t a priority.”

Franklin was especially moved by Fletcher’s murder, as she posted on a social media, which was cited by the local outlet.

“I’ve been up all night thinking about this beautiful soul; I can’t sleep, I can’t eat!” Franklin wrote. “My heart pours out for her and her family, especially those babies, because I know what she experienced firsthand! May your should rest in everlasting peace, Eliza.”

Cleotha Abston remains in custody, facing numerous charges related to Fletcher’s homicide, Franklin’s rape and an unrelated theft. He is expected to make his next court appearance on Sept. 28.

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