A bill recently signed into law in Tennessee would have kept the man accused of abducting kindergarten teacher and heiress Eliza Fletcher in jail if it had been in effect after his first conviction for kidnapping.
Cleotha Abston, 38, was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence in connection with Fletcher’s disappearance. He was previously held in state prison after he forced Kemper Durand, a Memphis-based lawyer, into the trunk of his car at gunpoint.
In that particular case, which took place in 2000, Abston was charged with aggravated robbery and especially aggravated kidnapping.
The new law was sponsored by Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, both Republicans, and it states that there is no release eligibility for a person who committed certain offenses, one of which is especially aggravated kidnapping.
“The person will serve 100 percent of the sentence imposed by the court undiminished by any sentence reduction credits the person may be eligible for or earn,” language from the bill said.
While an individual may earn credits for increased privileges or reduced security classification, the sentence will remain in place. The law would lead to a $40,693,100 increase in state expenditures.
Kidnapping may be broken down into different categories.
Law information website FindLaw reported that especially aggravated kidnapping involves a victim who suffered a serious injury, a kidnapping that was accomplished with a deadly weapon or something that the victim would believe is a deadly weapon, or if the suspect held the victim for a reward.
Those found guilty of especially aggravated kidnapping may face a maximum fine of $50,000 and 15 to 60 years in prison.
Abston was released from prison in November 2020 after serving time for Durand’s kidnapping, though The Commercial Appeal reported that he was initially sentenced to 24 years in prison.
“This atrocious crime would have never happened and Eliza Fletcher would not have become a victim if Tennessee had truth in sentencing in 2000,” Sexton told Newsweek in an email.
Fletcher was out jogging in the early hours of Friday when she was shoved into a car, as seen in security footage. She was reported missing at about 7:45 a.m. by her husband when she did not return home.
Police said they identified Abston as a suspect by matching DNA evidence from sandals found near the scene.
“This case and others like it also demonstrate how far society has gone to protect violent criminals instead of victims,” Sexton said. “We are more worried about their feelings than we are for victims and their families. Additionally, soft-on-crime initiatives create more victims every day by pacifying criminals and by not holding them accountable. Rehabilitation programs don’t work on evil.”
Abston is being held at the Shelby County Jail, but Fletcher has not yet been found.
Newsweek reached out to the Tennessee Department of Corrections and McNally for further comment.