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Who was Kemper Durand? Prosecutor escaped Cleotha Abston's clutches after Eliza Fletcher suspect held him at gunpoint

'I was extremely lucky that I was able to escape from the custody of Cleotha Abston,' the late attorney once said
Cleotha Abston previously served 20 years for violently kidnapping Memphis-based prosecutor Kemper Durand (, Memphis Police Department)
Cleotha Abston previously served 20 years for violently kidnapping Memphis-based prosecutor Kemper Durand (, Memphis Police Department)

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: The man charged with the abduction of Tennessee heiress Eliza Fletcher, was accused of rape as a young teen and previously served 20 years for violently kidnapping a prosecutor. According to the court records obtained by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Cleotha Abston, 38, has a juvenile record dating back to when he was just 12 with charges including aggravated assault with a weapon and rape.

Abston was just 16 when he kidnapped Memphis-based prosecutor Kemper Durand at gunpoint in the early hours of May 25, 2000, reports from the time show. Durand had testified that only luck had saved him from being killed that day. 13 years later, Durand’s former law firm, Lewison Thomason, recalled in an obit after the attorney’s death that Abston “held a gun at Kemper’s face and demanded his car keys” and forced him into the trunk. 


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“For the next several hours, Kemper was trapped in the cold darkness of his car trunk,” as Abston and an even younger teen with him “drove the car throughout the city,” the firm’s obit recalled. “From time to time, the car would stop. The men would open the trunk, pull Kemper out, make him withdraw money from an ATM machine,” the obit said. It was only “after several hours” that the attorney spotted an armed security guard near one of the ATMs, the report said. “Kemper yelled for help” and his attackers fled, the document noted.

Abston was later convicted of aggravated robbery, as well as especially aggravated kidnapping, the latter being one of two charges he was again hit with Sunday, September 4, for allegedly abducting Fletcher, the 34-year-old teacher and hardware heiress who had still not been found Monday. He was sentenced in 2001 to serve 24 years in prison and Durand fought for him to remain locked up when he tried to challenge the sentence, according to records obtained by the Commercial Appeal.

“My feelings about being the victim of this crime, and the feelings of those around me, are that I was extremely lucky that I was able to escape from the custody of Cleotha Abston,” the attorney wrote in a victim impact statement objecting to the 2003 bid, the paper noted. “It was very fortunate that an armed, uniformed Memphis Housing Authority guard happened to come” across them, he reportedly wrote. “It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped.”

It was in that impact statement that Durand detailed Abston’s record, noting how he had appeared in juvenile court records in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. The report did not detail if he was convicted or exactly what led to the charges, including the alleged rape. Durand also ripped Abston for taking more than a year to sign a guilty plea, citing the refusal as “jailhouse braggadocio,” the records reportedly said.

In sharp contrast, Durand had testified on behalf of Abston’s co-accused, Marquette Cobbins, to try to get him a lighter sentence, his law firm noted. “As Kemper saw it, the man was at the wrong place with the wrong person at the wrong time,” his law firm said, making clear that the late attorney always viewed Abston as his sole kidnapper. He testified to hearing Cobbins begging Abston to “stop the car, let this man out, give him his keys, and go!” After his appeal, the judge agreed to give Cobbins the lightest possible sentence, the obit said. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years and was eligible for parole after 18 months, the Memphis Flyer noted at the time.


Durand died in early February 2013. Abston was released in November 2020, the Commercial Appeal said. He does not appear to have any documented charges against him in the last two years in the Memphis area, although neighbors called him “creepy” and a “pervert,” saying he would offer them money for sex. Abston was busted Sunday after DNA testing on a pair of sandals left at the site of Fletcher’s abduction, with video footage later showing him allegedly violently abducting the mom during her daily early morning jog. Before his arrest, he was also seen washing the inside of his work SUV and scrubbing his clothes while “acting very strange,” according to the document. Abston, 38, is being held on a $500,000 bond on charges of tampering with evidence and especially aggravated kidnapping.