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Eliza Fletcher: Suspect in kidnapping and death of Memphis teacher, held without bond




CNN

A man suspected of abducting and killing a jogging Memphis teacher was temporarily held without bail Wednesday on a murder charge that was added after his body was identified.

Cleotha Henderson, accused of killing 34-year-old Eliza “Liza” Fletcher after he kidnapped her in Memphis early Friday, appeared in court in prison gear and a face mask. It was his second arraignment hearing in two days.

Shelby County Judge Louis J. Montesi Jr. on Wednesday revoked a $500,000 bond that was set earlier — when Henderson was charged in the case solely with kidnapping and tampering with evidence — and said a full bail hearing would take place later.

The judge also ruled that the court would recognize the suspect’s legal last name as Henderson. Authorities previously called her Cleotha Abston.

Montesi then adjourned the hearing and said it would resume on Thursday, when the judge said he would hear a defense motion regarding Henderson’s representation. Montesi did not elaborate on the motion.

After Wednesday’s proceedings, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy deflected a reporter’s question about what sentence he would pursue if Henderson was found guilty. A conviction for first degree murder carries sentences of life imprisonment with or without parole, or the death penalty.

“It is premature for us to discuss now what sentence we are going to seek,” Mulroy said outside the courtroom.

Fletcher’s disappearance sparked an intense chase – backed by surveillance video which police say showed her being forced into an SUV early Friday while jogging – which led to the arrest of Fletcher. Henderson near his home in Memphis on Saturday.

Fletcher’s body was found near a vacant duplex on Monday and was publicly identified on Tuesday, authorities said.

The teacher’s death, which authorities say was violent, has reverberated through the Tennessee town and is still surrounded by questions about where and how she was killed – and why.

Still, investigators “have no reason to believe this was anything other than an isolated attack by a stranger,” Mulroy told reporters on Tuesday.

As the investigation unfolds, the Fletcher community mourns the kindergarten teacher and mother of two.

She was “a joy to all who knew her,” her family said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WHBQ.

“We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. Liza was such a joy to so many – her family, friends, colleagues, students, parents, members of her Second Presbyterian Church congregation, and everyone who knew her,” the statement read.

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

At St. Mary’s Episcopal School, faculty and staff began the day in the chapel and lit candles in memory of Fletcher, the school said in a Facebook post Tuesday.

“We are heartbroken over the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague and friend Liza Fletcher,” St. Mary’s Episcopal School said.

Fletcher was the granddaughter of hardware magnate Joseph Orgill III, who died in 2018 aged 80. Orgill, based in Tennessee, has annual revenue of $3 billion, according to the company.

Henderson, 38, was arraigned on Tuesday on the initial charges – specifically aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence – and at the time was named a public defender to represent him.

Fletcher was jogging in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis around 4 a.m. Friday. Her husband told police Friday morning that she had not returned, authorities said in an affidavit, originally filed Sunday and amended Tuesday.

Someone found his phone on a street that morning, and it was given to one of Fletcher’s relatives, who turned it over to investigators, the affidavit says.

Police then found surveillance video of that area, which shows a black GMC Terrain driving past it, according to the affidavit. A man is seen in the footage getting out of the SUV and “aggressively” running towards her before forcing her into the passenger seat of the vehicle, according to the affidavit.

The SUV remained in a parking lot for about four minutes after the two people got inside and then drove off, the affidavit says.

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

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

Members of a U.S. Marshals task force found a GMC Terrain near Henderson’s home on Saturday morning – and it had the same damage visible in surveillance footage, and the license plate matched partial information from the plaque gleaned from the video, reads the affidavit.

The task force detained Henderson near his home on Saturday, according to the court document.

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

The two said Henderson cleaned the interior of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner and washed his clothes in the house sink, according to the affidavit.

Cleotha Henderson, right, faces forward during a hearing in a Shelby County courtroom on Wednesday.

On Monday, searchers, acting on information from an FBI team analyzing cellphone data, found Fletcher’s body just after 5 p.m., the affidavit said.

The researchers, using cellphone data, had focused on an area near an intersection less than a mile from the brother’s house. The team smelled a rotting smell coming from an area near a vacant house, saw vehicle tracks in the tall grass near the driveway and eventually found the body on the property, according to the affidavit. .

That property was in the 1600 block of Victor Street, authorities said. It’s about a half-mile drive from the address authorities gave for his brother’s home, 7.5 miles by car from the abduction site, and about 15.5 miles by car from the Henderson’s house.

Just over an hour after the body was found and about three-tenths of a mile away, a detective found a trash bag with purple running shorts – consistent with those Fletcher was wearing when she was abducted, says the affidavit.

Agents are working on the scene where Eliza Fletcher was allegedly kidnapped on Friday.

Court records also reveal that Henderson previously served time in prison for an aggravated kidnapping more than 20 years ago.

In November 2001, Henderson pleaded guilty to the charge and was released in November 2020, according to court records.

Henderson had been convicted of kidnapping an attorney in 2000, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office told local news outlet WREG.

This month, Henderson also faces charges unrelated to Fletcher’s case, including identity theft, theft of property of $1,000 or less and fraudulent use/unlawful possession of a card. credit or debit card of $1,000 or less, according to Shelby County Jail records.

These charges relate to a theft report filed last week by a woman who reported that someone was using her Cash App card and Wisely card at gas stations without her knowledge.

CNN has contacted the Shelby County District Attorney and Memphis police regarding the theft charges.

Cnn

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