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The mother of the man accused of murdering Memphis jogger Eliza Fletcher says her son is innocent.
Cleotha Abston, 38, is accused of abducting, raping and murdering the 34-year-old mother and teacher on Sept. 2, in a case that quickly gained national attention and highlighted concerns for safety in the running community.
However, Abston’s mother, Virgie Abston, 65, spoke about her son publicly for the first time in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, claiming her son is innocent.
“I talked to him, and he said he didn’t do it,” Virgie said of a conversation she had with her son from jail. “He said [to me], ‘They’re trying to put me in some stuff, mom.’”
Abston had spent most of his life in and out of prison, and has a criminal history dating back to when he was 11 years-old. Previous charges include aggravated assault, theft, burglary, evading arrest and rape, among others.
“He’s just a good person,” Virgie Abston continued. “Kind. Lovable.”
Virgie Abston did address one of her son’s more notable convictions: The violent 2000 kidnapping of Memphis-based attorney Kemper Durand. Abston, then 16 years-old, helped put Durand into the trunk of a car at gunpoint before driving the victim around the city to withdraw cash from ATMs.
Durand escaped while Abston and his younger accomplice were stopped at one of the ATMs.
Abston was sentenced to 24 years in prison for that crime and was released in 2020, despite Durand petitioning to the court to keep Abston behind bars.
Virgie Abston blamed the criminal justice system.
“They held Cleo in the juvie. They railroaded him, had him sign the papers without no parent around, without our consent,” said Virgie. “We didn’t know he signed no papers. We didn’t know nothing.”
“He left me when he was 16,” Virgie continued to the Daily Mail. “They took 20 years of my son’s life. They need to fix that.”
On Friday, Sept. 2 — two years after Abston’s release — investigators say Abston allegedly ambushed kindergarten teacher Eliza Fletcher during one of her routine pre-dawn runs near the University of Memphis. Surveillance video showed the suspect forcing Fletcher into a dark-colored GMC Terrain, staying in the parked vehicle for about four minutes, and then driving away with Fletcher still inside.
The abduction prompted a high-profile search over Labor Day weekend and resulted in Cleotha Abston's arrest, after DNA was allegedly found on a pair of men’s sandals that were recovered where Fletcher was kidnapped and linked to the crime.
After putting a rush on the DNA found on the sandals at Fletcher’s crime scene, investigators linked Abston to a separate kidnapping and rape in 2021 — a case Abston has since also pleaded not guilty to, according to the Associated Press.
Later surveillance footage allegedly showed Abston cleaning out his GMC Terrain at his brother’s apartment shortly after Fletcher’s abduction, with witnesses saying he was “acting very strange.” The brother, identified as Mario Abston, 38, was arrested during the course of the investigation on drug and firearm charges but is not believed to have had a part in Fletcher’s murder.
“The boys are on their own,” Virgie also said of her sons. “What they do, I do not know.”
Cleotha Abston was arrested by U.S. Marshals on Sept. 4 on charges of especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence. He reportedly refused to cooperate with authorities in helping them find Fletcher, who was still missing.
On Sept. 5, investigators found Fletcher’s body behind a long-abandoned duplex on Victor Street, about seven-and-a-half miles from where she had been kidnapped. Abtson’s charges were subsequently upgraded to include first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping.
According to an affidavit, investigators located surveillance footage that placed Abston’s SUV at the duplex just over an hour after Fletcher’s disappearance.
Fletcher’s cause of death has yet to be revealed by officials.
Nonetheless, Virgie Abston maintains that her son is innocent, according to the Daily Mail.
“I believe him. I don’t believe he did it,” said Abston’s mother. “If it comes out of his mouth, that’s what I believe.”
On top of the charges stemming from Fletcher’s murder and the other 2021 kidnapping and rape, Abston is also charged with theft for allegedly stealing a theater employee’s wallet one day before Fletcher’s murder and using the person’s bank cards to spend more than $900 on gas station purchases, according to ABC Memphis affiliate WATN-TV.
According to the New York Post, Abston is due back in court on Sept. 28.
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