Tennessee Lawmakers Say Memphis Teacher’s Death Was Preventable, Promise Tougher Criminal Justice

Image: Pictured – Eliza Fletcher Image Credit: Isaac777/ CC & Memphis Police Department

The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –

Tennessee lawmakers have said Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher’s violent death could have been prevented if a new law had existed when her murderer was previously incarcerated. Thirty-eight year old Cleotha Abston had been recently released early from a state prison for a previous crime and was not under supervision or parole at the time of his attack on Fletcher.

Both the House Speaker, Cameron Sexton, and the Senate’s Lt. Governor Randy McNally sponsored a bill earlier this year to require that violent criminals serve 100% of their prison sentences. The aim of the new legislation is to keep the most dangerous criminals from reoffending by keeping them behind bars.

Governor Bill Lee allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

The Truth in Sentencing law provides certainty to victims of violent crimes that the criminals who victimized them will remain incarcerated for the entirety of their sentence and will not be eligible for early release.

Those found guilty of the following offenses would serve 100% of their sentence:

  • Attempted first degree murder
  • Second degree murder
  • Vehicular homicide resulting from the driver’s intoxication
  • Aggravated vehicular homicide
  • Especially aggravated kidnapping
  • Especially aggravated robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Especially aggravated burglary

Following the kidnapping and shocking death of Fletcher, a wife and mother of two, Memphis was again left reeling after 19-year-old Ezekiel Kelly gunned down four victims and injured three in a mass shooting event. Kelly had also been released early from prison.

“You can’t rehab evil,” said Sexton Thursday during a radio interview. “Evil is evil, and they need to be in jail, either their entire sentence or the rest of their lives.”

McNally called the crimes against Fletcher, “as heinous as it was preventable.”

The House Speaker announced a new effort on Thursday to begin work on “a comprehensive rebuild of the entire criminal justice system,” that will include mental health and substance abuse, ending incentives to reduce the length of sentences, building more prisons, and creating more juvenile intervention programs.

Sexton has blamed the current state of Tennessee’s criminal justice system on “soft on crime” groups resulting in a system that is “too lenient.”

“Today is the day we take back our communities. You should be able to live your life without fear of becoming a victim. I don’t believe there is a cost too great to bear to protect our communities and families,” said Sexton. “This should not be a partisan issue, and we must work together to undo these decades-old, soft-on-crime initiatives.”

Governor Lee has advocated for certain criminal justice reforms, touting his belief that the state should be “smart on crime” while also being tough. Lee backed a reform effort in 2020 to require the mandatory supervision of the formerly incarcerated as they return to society.

On Thursday, Lee said his administration is focused on ensuring that law enforcement is able to respond to crime, but expects a “continued conversation” about how Tennessee can lower crime while also reducing the rate of recidivism. He did not comment on his decision to decline signing the Truth in Sentencing bill earlier in the year.

About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at paula@tennesseeconservativenews.com.

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