Leading politicians announced Tennessee will fast-track a budget to hire additional forensic lab workers to support the state’s efforts to assess sexual assault kits. The urgency came not based on the backlog of cases but after a high-profile killing of a white heiress.
On Thursday, Sept. 29, the news was shared Gov. Bill Lee and top legislative leaders announced they will move swiftly to fill 25 new forensic lab positions, The Associated Press reports.
The decision comes weeks after authorities identified the man who kidnapped and killed the white mother of two, kindergarten teacher, and granddaughter of a billionaire hardware entrepreneur, Eliza Fletcher. The same man is now charged with raping a Black woman on Sept. 21, 2021— but was never arrested because of the delay in processing the sexual assault kit.
Cleotha Abston-Henderson, 38, was arrested and indicted for Fletcher’s death within a day her disappearance.
It took the Memphis Police Department a total of 18 hours to connect Henderson to the murder after Fletcher’s husband reported her missing on Sept. 2. It took the same agency almost a year before Henderson’s DNA would be connected to Alicia Franklin, the African-American, victim on Sept. 5.
Franklin stated she met the man on a dating app, and when the two agreed to meet as his apartment, he blindfolded her and raped her. Turns out this would be the same man charged with kidnapping and murdering Fletcher.
DNA authorities connected to Abston-Henderson was processed hours after it was found at the scene of Fletcher’s kidnapping, which was uncovered by investigators who reviewed the surveillance footage. The next day, Abston-Henderson was apprehended and arrested on charges of kidnapping. Her body was found days later.
That same prioritization was not made for Franklin.
“I was just an average Black girl in the city of Memphis, you know,” Franklin told the Institute for Public Service. “I just think it wasn’t a priority.”
The police incident report in the rape case located Abston-Henderson’s apartment at 5783 Waterstone Oak Way, doors away from where he was arrested earlier in the month for Fletcher’s murder.
According to the Tennessee State Bureau of Investigation, the MPD never requested an expedited analysis of the kit related to the Black woman, and no suspect information was submitted to their office. The average “ranged from approximately 33 weeks to 49 weeks” between September 2021 and August 2022.
Reports suggest the Memphis Police Department only expedited DNA testing in heiress’ case Fletcher’s case in the hopes to find her alive.
It was discovered the assailant’s DNA was already in the FBI database dating back to 2001.
Over 20 years ago, he pled guilty to kidnapping Memphis attorney Kemper Durand during an attempted robbery when he was only 16.
Abston-Henderson served 20 years in prison and was released for said crime in 2020.
The career criminal was only 11 years old when he first got charged with a crime and reportedly has been charged with a crime every year from 1995 to 2000, earning his first rape charge at 14 years old.
Abston-Henderson was rebooked for Franklin’s sexual assault on Sept. 9, with officials have confirmed his indictment came after the Fletcher murder because of the delay in testing.
Memphis Police Maj. Karen Rudolph said “An official CODIS hit was not received until after the unfortunate event that occurred on September 2, 2022. Probable cause to make a physical arrest of any suspect did not exist until after the CODIS hit had been received.”
Dropping the ball on so many of the vital points of the case botched her case, Franklin believed. She was not alone. Other experts, activists, and women’s rights organizations have cried for justice for her.
Franklin says if law enforcement would have arrested her attacker a year ago, Fletcher might still be alive.
“I’ve been up all night thinking about this beautiful soul I can’t sleep I can’t eat! my heart pours out for her and her family especially those babies because I know what she experienced firsthand! may your soul rest in everlasting peace Eliza,” she wrote on her now private Facebook page.
One of her supporters posted on his Facebook in support of her posture during this ordeal, “All I can say is Alicia Shatell Franklin is an amazing, brave, and articulate soul.”
Now, Franklin is now suing, according to the Washington Post.
Her lawyer Jeff Rosenblum states in the lawsuit the MPD “had a duty to [Franklin] and to the Memphis community to either request expedited processing or hire a private forensic laboratory to process [her] rape kit to prevent further heinous crimes that were not only foreseeable but that were also predictable.”
”He (Cleotha Abston Henderson) would be in custody. He wouldn’t be on the streets of Memphis at 4:20 a.m. on September 2,” Rosenblum continued, “it’s definite Eliza Fletcher would not be dead.”
As for the deep dive to analyze the rap kits on file, there is a backlogged inventory of over 12,000 recently found kits in Memphis police storage.