A trial date has been set for a man charged in the kidnapping, killing of a Memphis school teacher

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A judge set a trial date Monday for a man accused of kidnapping and murdering a school teacher while out for an early morning run in Memphis, Tennessee.

Shelby County Judge Lee Coffee set Cleotha Abston’s trial on first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and other charges for Feb. 10, court records showed. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if Abston is convicted of first-degree murder.

Abston, 40, has pleaded not guilty. Eliza Fletcher was grabbed from a street while jogging near the University of Memphis on September 2, 2022, and forced into an SUV. Her body was found days later near a vacant duplex.

“We will be ready for trial,” Abston’s lawyer, Juni Ganguli, said in a text message.

Abston it was sentenced to 80 years in prison May 17 for raping a woman a year before he was charged in Fletcher’s death. He was convicted in April of raping the woman while holding her at gunpoint in September 2021.

Abston, whose history of criminal prosecution dates back to the 1990s when he was a juvenile, received 40 years in prison for aggravated rape, 20 years for aggravated kidnapping and another 20 years for being a felon in possession of a gun. The sentences run one after the other or one after the other.

Ganguli said Abston will appeal the rape verdict.

“I don’t believe for a second that he raped or kidnapped or had a gun, that he pointed a gun at that woman,” Ganguli told reporters after the sentencing hearing.

Abston was not arrested on rape charges before Fletcher’s murder, due to a long delay in processing the sexual assault kitauthorities said.

After Fletcher’s death, the Legislature passed a law requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to issue a quarterly report on sexual assault kit testing times.

The killing of Fletcher, a 34-year-old kindergarten teacher and mother of two, shocked the Memphis community and led to an outpouring of support for her family. Runners in Memphis and several other cities held an early morning organize events in her honor a week after she was kidnapped. A second run in Fletcher’s honor was held last year.

Abston, who also goes by the name Cleotha Henderson, was arrested after police discovered his DNA on sandals found near the location where Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit. A the autopsy report showed Fletcher died of a gunshot wound to the head.