Missing Teacher Eliza "Liza" Fletcher
Hear how police pinpointed location of missing teacher's body
03:48 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The man accused of kidnapping and murdering a Tennessee teacher appeared in court Thursday in a city stunned by another deadly attack.

Cleotha Henderson, 38, faces multiple charges in the killing of Eliza “Liza” Fletcher, 34, who disappeared after she went jogging in Memphis early Friday morning.

Henderson allegedly passed by Fletcher in an SUV while she was jogging in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis.

Authorities say Henderson got out of the vehicle and chased Fletcher until he forced her into the passenger seat around 4 a.m. Friday. After a dayslong, intensive search, Fletcher’s body was found Monday behind a vacant duplex.

Cleotha Henderson appeared in court for an arraignment Tuesday.

Henderson appeared in a Shelby County court Thursday after he filed a motion for a change of attorney because of an alleged conflict of interest.

The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, which was appointed to Henderson’s case this week, had previously represented him in a kidnapping conviction more than 20 years ago, Judge Louis J. Montesi Jr. said.

Montesi said Henderson’s prior attorney would not be involved in his current case but ruled there were no “grounds or basis for the public defender to be disqualified as counsel.”

The judge said Henderson will remain in the Shelby County Jail without bond for the murder charge against him. CNN has reached out to the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office for comment.

Henderson initially faced charges of kidnapping and tampering with evidence in relation to the Fletcher case. Prosecutors later added a charge of first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping.

It’s not clear what kind of sentencing prosecutors are planning to pursue if Henderson is convicted.

“It is premature for us to discuss right now what punishment we’re going to seek,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Wednesday. In Tennessee, a first-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of life in prison – with or without parole – or the death penalty.

It’s also unclear whether Henderson’s prior kidnapping conviction of more than 20 years would have an impact in this case. Henderson pleaded guilty to kidnapping an attorney in 2000 and was released in 2020, the Shelby County district attorney’s office told local news outlet WREG.

Convicted felons are suspects in recent Memphis killings

While Henderson was in court Thursday, another wave of shock and grief permeated Memphis.

Police say a 19-year-old man went on a shooting rampage across Memphis on Wednesday, killing four people and wounding three others.

The suspect, Ezekiel Kelly, was previously charged with criminal attempted first-degree murder but pleaded guilty in April 2021 to a lesser charge of aggravated assault.

He was sentenced to three years in prison, but only served 11 months and was released in March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.

“If Mr. Kelly served his full three-year sentence, he would still be in prison today, and four of our fellow citizens would still be alive,” the mayor said.

The arrests of Kelly and Henderson in the recent Memphis killings sparked concerns about the criminal justice system and repeat offenders.

“People in Memphis and Shelby County are understandably frightened and outraged by all these events,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said.

“I said it before, I’ll say again: If you’ve got repeat violent offenders, they deserve a strong response. And that’s what we’ll get from the DA’s office.”

But “today is not about debating the finer details of criminal justice policy,” Mulroy said after Henderson’s hearing Thursday. “Today, we’re dealing with a tragedy that occurred last week.”

Mourners will continue slain teacher’s run

Fletcher, an avid runner, never made it home after her last predawn jog. So community members will pick up where she left off.

About 2,000 runners have signed up for “Let’s Finish Liza’s Run.” They’ll follow the same 8.2-mile route Fletcher regularly ran.

“Our goal is to stand up for the women in the Mid South and emphasize that women should be able to safely run any time of day,” organizers wrote on Facebook.

Fletcher was a junior kindergarten teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis. The school faculty and staff lit candles in Fletcher’s memory earlier this week.

“We are heartbroken at the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague, and friend Liza Fletcher,” the school said.

The 34-year-old was also a wife and mother of two.

“Liza was a such a joy to so many – her family, friends, colleagues, students, parents, members of her Second Presbyterian Church congregation, and everyone who knew her,” Fletcher’s family said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WHBQ.

“Now it’s time to remember and celebrate how special she was and to support those who cared so much for her. We appreciate all the expressions of love and concern we have received. We are grateful beyond measure to local, state and federal law enforcement for their tireless efforts to find Liza and to bring justice to the person responsible for this horrible crime.”

How the search unfolded

The search for Fletcher started last Friday when her husband reported she didn’t return home from her routine morning jog, authorities said in an affidavit.

Someone had found her phone on a street that morning. The person gave the phone to one of Fletcher’s relatives, who gave it to investigators, the affidavit said.

Later, police found surveillance video of that area, which showed a black GMC Terrain pass by her, according to the affidavit. A man is seen in the footage getting out of the SUV and “aggressively” running toward her before forcing her into the vehicle’s passenger seat, according to the affid