A look into Cleotha Abston’s lengthy juvenile record

Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 10:57 PM EDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Cleotha Abston was only 11 years old when he first entered the Shelby County Juvenile Court as a delinquent, according to juvenile court records exclusively reviewed by Action News 5.

Over the next five years, he would be detained 16 times for charges ranging from aggravated assault to rape.

Abston’s first charge was filed in June 1995 for theft of property $500 or less. From October 1995 to May 2000, Abston was convicted of rape, aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon.

His juvenile court records show Abston was part of the “LMG” gang, which stands for “Lemoyne Gardens Ganstas,” and that his father was incarcerated at the time of his first arrest.

Records also show that Abston’s rape victim, a male, was asked to testify in court. The rape charge was sustained and Abston was placed in the custody of Shelby County’s Youth Services Bureau.

In fact, Abston was placed in the custody of Youth Services multiple times as a young teen.

However, two weeks after he was released to his mother after a six-month stay, Abston committed his last juvenile crime before he was transferred to adult court.

In 2000, at the age of 16, Abston kidnapped Memphis Defense Attorney Kemper Durand (right).
In 2000, at the age of 16, Abston kidnapped Memphis Defense Attorney Kemper Durand (right).(Action News 5)

Abston kidnapped Memphis Defense Attorney Kemper Durand at gunpoint in May 2000. Durand was able to yell for help while Abston was forcing him to withdraw money from an ATM.

Abston, who was 16 at the time of the crime, was tried as an adult and sentenced to 24 years in prison.

In 2009, Abston asked the court for an early release citing, in part, “ineffective counsel.”

However, a victim impact statement written by Durand discouraged Abston’s release saying he felt “extremely lucky” to have escaped and that Abston felt “absolutely no remorse for the crime.”

Durand died in 2013 and his surviving family members - a wife and two sons - did not want to comment formally on the new charges against Abston, though one family wrote Action News 5 that they were “deeply saddened by what happened to Mrs. Fletcher, who by all accounts seems to have been a kind, caring, vibrant, and giving woman, mother, and teacher.”

Abston served 20 years of his 24-year sentence for the Durand kidnapping, 85% of his term, and was released from Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility in November 2020.

According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, he was released early due to credits he received for serving jail time before his sentence and for participating in the prison’s job program where Abston worked in the kitchen, laundry, cleaner, and as a cook.

Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally tweeted Tuesday that he believes had Abston served his full sentence that “Eliza Fletcher would still be alive.”

But newly elected District Attorney General Steve Mulroy doesn’t necessarily agree. Overall, he favors the rehabilitation of prisoners over longer sentences.

“I think to a large extent we’ve given up on using prisons to rehabilitate,” said Mulroy. “The shame of it is if we took the rehabilitation seriously, we would actually reduce the repeat offender rate over the long term.”

Mulroy says he also plans on working with the Shelby County Juvenile Court to bolster intervention for young offenders who may have a chance to change the direction of their lives. He says he plans to look at juvenile court models nationwide, including Nashville, for inspiration.

“Early intervention helps more than simply shipping people off to adult crime college where the data shows they’re more likely to re-offend,” said Mulroy. “That doesn’t keep us safer. That doesn’t help the victims.”

Tennessee’s Truth in Sentencing law, which passed earlier this year, requires inmates convicted of certain crimes to serve their full term. Mulroy says serving a full term doesn’t necessarily mean the prisoner won’t re-offend upon release.

“I think we have to look at all of the data, and all of the data says that it does balloon the prison budget and it’s not the most effective way to reduce crime.”

Cleo Henderson, Abston’s father who was incarcerated when Abston was first arrested, is currently in prison for second-degree murder and is scheduled for release in 2044.

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