Sunday, February 25

Eliza Fletcher: Suspect facing charges in Memphis teacher’s killing will appear in court for 3rd day in a row

Cleotha Henderson faces multiple charges in the killing of Eliza “Liza” Fletcher, 34, who went missing while jogging early morning last Friday. The case has unleashed shock and grief in the Memphis community as significant questions regarding motive and location remain unanswered.

Henderson allegedly passed by Fletcher in an SUV as she was jogging in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis, got out of the vehicle and then chased her until he forced her into the passenger seat around 4 am Friday. After days of an intensive search, authorities recovered her body from behind a vacant duplex.

“We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. Liza was a such a joy to so many — her family, friends, colleagues, students, parents, members of her Second Presbyterian Church congregation, and everyone who knew her,” Fletcher’s family said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WHBQ.

Henderson, 38, will return to court Thursday, when Shelby County Judge Louis J. Montesi Jr. is expected to hear a defense motion about his representation. The judge did not elaborate on the motion.

Before Thursday, Henderson had already been in court Tuesday and Wednesday — primarily to be arraigned on the charges against him in the case.

On Wednesday, the judge revoked the $500,000 bond that had been in place when Henderson was charged, meaning he will be temporarily held without bond until a full hearing on the matter is conducted.

The judge also determined the court will recognize his legal surname as Henderson. Authorities previously referred to him as Cleotha Abston.

Henderson initially faced charges of kidnapping and tampering with evidence, and prosecutors later added a charge of first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping.

But it’s unclear the type of sentencing prosecutors are planning to pursue if Henderson is convicted.

“It is premature for us to discuss right now what punishment we’re going to seek,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said outside the courtroom Wednesday after the hearing. A first-degree murder conviction carries sentences of life in prison with or without parole, or the death penalty.

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It’s also unclear whether Henderson’s prior kidnapping conviction more than 20 years would have an impact in this case. Henderson served a lengthy prison sentence after pleading guilty to kidnapping an attorney in 2000 and was released in 2020, the Shelby County district attorney’s office told local outlet WREG.

Community run to honor victim

In their statement, Fletcher’s family said they’re focused on honoring her memory.

“Now it’s time to remember and celebrate how special she was and to support those who cared so much for her. We appreciate all the expressions of love and concern we have received. We are grateful beyond measure to local, state and federal law enforcement for their tireless efforts to find Liza and to bring justice to the person responsible for this horrible crime,” Fletcher’s family said.

Body found in Memphis is that of abducted teacher and a suspect is being charged with murder, police say

Memphis community members also organized an activity Friday dubbed “Let’s Finish Liza’s Run” in an effort to memorialize the avid runner.

Nearly 2,000 runners have signed up for the 8.2-mile route they regularly ran, according to organizers.

“Our goal is to stand up for the women in the Mid South and emphasize that women should be able to safely run any time of day,” they wrote on Facebook.

A mother to two children, Fletcher was a junior kindergarten teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis. The school faculty and staff lit candles in Fletcher’s memory earlier this week.

“We are heartbroken at the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague, and friend Liza Fletcher,” the school said.

Fletcher is also the granddaughter of hardware tycoon Joseph Orgill III, who died in 2018 at the age of 80. Tennessee-based Orgill has annual sales of $3 billion, according to the company.
Cleotha Henderson appears in Judge Louis Montesi courtroom for his arraignment on Tuesday in Memphis, Tennessee.

How authorities say the abduction unfolded

The search for Fletcher began last Friday when her husband reported her missing after she didn’t return home from her routine morning jog, authorities said in an affidavit.

She regularly jogged in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis, and someone had found her phone on a street that morning. The person gave the phone to one of Fletcher’s relatives of her, who gave it to investigators, the affidavit explains.

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Later, police found surveillance video of that area, which showed a black GMC Terrain pass by her, according to the affidavit. A man is seen in the footage of her getting out of the SUV and “aggressively” running toward her before forcing her into the vehicle’s passenger seat, according to the affidavit.

The SUV remained in a parking lot for about four minutes after both people were inside and then drove away, the affidavit states.

Police also analyzed a pair of sandals that were found at the abduction site, near the victim’s phone. DNA found on the shoes matched Henderson’s DNA, the affidavit reads.

She moved to the US with big dreams and met a boyfriend on Craigslist.  Then she vanished

Investigators interviewed Henderson’s employer, who said he drove a GMC Terrain and verified his phone number. Investigators checked Henderson’s cell phone records, which showed he was near the abduction scene during the time of Fletcher’s kidnapping, according to the affidavit.

Members of a US Marshals task force found a GMC Terrain near Henderson’s home on Saturday morning that had the same distinguishable damage seen in the surveillance footage, and the license plate matched the partial plate information gleaned from the video, the affidavit reads.

The task force detained Henderson near his home Saturday, the court document said.

Police gathered details from two witnesses — including Henderson’s brother — who say they saw him acting strangely at the brother’s Memphis house after the abduction, according to the affidavit.

Both said Henderson cleaned the interior of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner, and that he washed his clothes in the sink of the home, according to the affidavit.

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CNN’s Melissa Alonso, Anne Clifford, Jamiel Lynch, Jason Hanna, Chuck Johnston, Jennifer Henderson, Tina Burnside, Hannah Sarisohn, Jennifer Feldman and AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

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