Cops Bungled A Rape Case That Would Have Saved Eliza Fletcher, According To A Lawsuit

On the day Eliza Fletcher was taken, DNA evidence from another case that could have put her suspect behind bars was languishing in a Tennessee testing facility. The woman in the first case has sued the city, alleging police might have captured the culprit sooner.

Eliza Fletcher was slain when the suspect should have been in jail, her lawyer said. “She’d be alive if they’d done their job.”

Cops Bungled A Rape Case That Would Have Saved Eliza Fletcher, According To A Lawsuit
Cops Bungled A Rape Case That Would Have Saved Eliza Fletcher, According To A Lawsuit

Alicia Franklin, 22, met Cleotha “Cleo” Abston on Sept. 21, 2021—almost a year before Fletcher’s kidnapping and death. She says they connected on a dating service and planned to meet at his workplace before supper.

She claims Abston drew a revolver on her, blindfolded her with a T-shirt, and threatened to murder her. She alleges he escorted her through the apartment to his car and raped her there. Franklin says she informed Abston she was pregnant, and he said, “All you bitches say that.”

Abston had just been freed from prison after 20 years for kidnapping and robbery. According to the suit, his DNA and other details were in an FBI database for future comparison. Franklin immediately reported the event to police, giving them the suspect’s initial name, phone number, automobile description, and dating app where they met. She also completed a rape kit that would link Abston to the crime.

According to the lawsuit, the rape kit wasn’t completed until June 24. The final report wasn’t released until Aug. 29, and Fletcher’s DNA wasn’t deposited into the national system until Sept. 5.

Fletcher’s abduction sparked global news and a multiagency search. The 37-year-old mother of two was last seen Sept. 2 near the University of Memphis campus. Her body was located in an abandoned house nearby. Surveillance footage from the abduction scene shows a guy forcing Fletcher into his car.

According to the lawsuit, authorities swiftly matched DNA from sandals recovered near the kidnapping site to Abston’s genetic material from his 2001 conviction. They also found Abston’s automobile and followed him to his home using surveillance cameras. On Sept. 4, he was arrested and charged with Fletcher’s abduction and murder.

Abston was also charged with aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, and unlawful weapon possession in Franklin’s Sept. 8 rape. Franklin claims Fletcher’s murder may have been prevented if her rape kit had been processed sooner or other leads had been thoroughly examined. She says police showed her a photo of Abston in a lineup of suspects, but she couldn’t identify him. She claims police promised to collect a more recent photo of Abston to show her, but never did.

Franklin claims she called a month later and was informed there were no updates.

It can take a year or two to process a rape kit, she told The Daily Memphian. “I gave up”

A police representative said the department doesn’t comment on litigation.

Franklin’s attorney, Smith, represents several women in a potential class-action lawsuit against Memphis over rape kits. Memphis police found 12,000 untested kits in 2013. A judge must certify this matter as a class action.

The TBI said testing rape kits takes 33 to 49 weeks. The Jackson facility that analyzed Franklin’s kit received an average of 350 sexual assault evidence requests every month, prompting long wait times. The TBI has the most submitted cases per scientist among the six surrounding states, according to TBI Communications Director Josh DeVine.

The bureau requested 40 more forensic scientists in the last budget cycle, but only got half. They’re hiring new employees for October.

Franklin alleged in her lawsuit that Fletcher’s murder may have been prevented if authorities had pursued her leads or tested the rape kit quickly.

“When they examined me that night, they had enough proof to arrest him. Franklin said, “They didn’t.” “I’m angry,” she said. I think about this daily.

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