Suspect in Memphis teacher’s abduction and death ordered held without bond
A man suspected of abducting and killing a Memphis teacher who was out jogging was temporarily ordered held without bond Wednesday on a murder charge that was added after her body was identified.
Cleotha Henderson, accused of killing 34-year-old Eliza “Liza” Fletcher after kidnapping her in Memphis early Friday, appeared in court wearing prison garb and a mask over his face. It was his second arraignment hearing in two days.
Shelby County Judge Louis J. Montesi Jr. on Wednesday revoked a $500,000 bond that had been set earlier — when Henderson was charged in the case only with kidnapping and tampering with evidence — and said a full bond hearing would be held later.
The judge also ruled the court will recognize the suspect’s legal surname as Henderson. Authorities previously referred to him as Cleotha Abston.
Montesi then paused the hearing and said it would resume Thursday, when the judge said he would hear a defense motion about Henderson’s representation. Montesi did not elaborate about the motion.
After Wednesday’s proceeding, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy deflected a reporter’s question about what punishment he’d pursue if Henderson is convicted. A first-degree murder conviction carries sentences of life in prison with or without parole, or the death penalty.
“It is premature for us to discuss right now what punishment we’re going to seek,” Mulroy said outside the courtroom.
Fletcher’s disappearance sparked an intense hunt — buoyed by surveillance video that police said showed her being forced into an SUV early Friday while she was on a jog — that led to Henderson’s arrest near his Memphis home Saturday.
Fletcher’s body was found near a vacant duplex Monday, and was publicly identified Tuesday, authorities said.
The teacher’s death, which authorities say was violent, has reverberated around the Tennessee city, and still is surrounded by questions about where and how she was killed — and why.
Still, investigators “have no reason to think this was anything other than an isolated attack by a stranger,” Mulroy told reporters Tuesday.
As the investigation unfolds, Fletcher’s community is mourning the junior kindergarten teacher and mother of two.
She was “a joy to everyone 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 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,” the statement reads.
“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.
At St. Mary’s Episcopal School, the faculty and staff started the day in chapel and lit candles in Fletcher’s memory, the school said Tuesday in a Facebook post.
“We are heartbroken at the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague, and friend Liza Fletcher,” the St. Mary’s Episcopal School said.
More than 1,700 runners have signed up to honor her on Friday by doing an 8.2-mile route like the one she would regularly run, 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.
Fletcher was the granddaughter of hardware magnate 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.
Henderson, 38, was arraigned Tuesday on the initial charges — especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence — and at the time was appointed a public defender to represent him.
How the four-day search for the victim unfolded
Fletcher had been jogging in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis around 4 a.m. Friday. Her husband told police Friday morning that she’d not returned, authorities said in an affidavit, which initially was filed Sunday and amended Tuesday.
Someone found her phone in a street that morning, and it was given to one of Fletcher’s relatives, who gave it to investigators, the affidavit reads.
Police then found surveillance video of that area, which shows a black GMC Terrain pass by her, according to the affidavit. A man is seen in the footage 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.
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 — and it 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.
Body found near vacant home; clothing found discarded nearby
On Monday, searchers, acting on information from an FBI team that analyzes cell phone data, found Fletcher’s body just after 5 p.m., according to the affidavit.
The searchers, using the cell phone data, had focused on an area near an intersection less than a mile from the brother’s home. The team smelled an odor of decay coming from an area near a vacant home, saw vehicle tracks in the high 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. That’s about a half-mile drive from the address that authorities gave for his brother’s home, a 7.5-mile drive from the abduction site and about a 15.5-mile drive from Henderson’s home.
A little more than 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 the ones Fletcher was wearing when she was abducted, the affidavit reads.
Suspect served prison time in previous kidnapping case
Court records also reveal that Henderson previously served a prison sentence for an aggravated kidnapping more than 20 years ago.
In November 2001, Henderson pleaded guilty to the charge and was released in November 2020, court records show.
Henderson had been convicted in the kidnapping of an attorney in 2000, the Shelby County district attorney’s office told local outlet WREG.
This month, Henderson also is facing charges unrelated to Fletcher’s case, including identity theft, theft of property $1,000 or less and fraudulent use/illegal possession of a credit or debit card $1,000 or less, Shelby County jail records show.
Those charges are connected to a theft report filed last week by a woman who reported someone was using her Cash App card and Wisely Card at gas stations without her knowledge.
CNN has reached out to the Shelby County district attorney and Memphis police regarding the theft charges.
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