Suspected Killer of Memphis Mom Had a Record of Committing Violent Crimes

The incident brings to the forefront the national criminal justice debate between those who want to reduce crime and those who want to reduce incarceration.

Background: Eliza Fletcher, a mother of two and a dedicated kindergarten teacher, was abducted and murdered during an early morning jog last week. She came from a billionaire Tennessee family, although there is no reason to believe that played a role in the killing.

The suspected murderer: Cleotha Abston, 38, has been charged. When he was 16, Abston abducted a prominent Memphis attorney at gunpoint. Before that incident, he was also charged with theft, aggravated assault with a weapon, rape, and other crimes, starting from the age of 11. After the abduction in 2000, Abston was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

A second chance: Abston was released from prison in November 2020, four years early. Although it’s unclear what led to the early release, states reduced jail and prison populations during the pandemic, aligning with progressive criminal justice reform. A new law in Tennessee that seeks to deny early release for offenses like aggravated kidnapping may have prevented the tragedy entirely.

The criminal justice debate: Senate candidates like John Fetterman in Pennsylvania are still campaigning on prison reform and giving “second chances” to those serving life sentences. His opponent, Dr. Oz, has repeatedly campaigned against this, advocating for a “tough-on-crime” approach instead.

Big picture: Progressives have promoted leniency on criminals in hopes of reducing incarceration. The resulting spikes in preventable crime have created a conservative push for stricter, crime-reducing policies.