Man accused of killing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher pleads not guilty in 2021 to unrelated rape charges


The man accused of kidnapping and killing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher was convicted Thursday of aggravated rape in a separate 2021 incident after DNA evidence from the Fletcher investigation linked him to the crime.

Cleotha Henderson, 38, was indicted last week on charges of rape, kidnapping and unlawful possession of a weapon in a September 21, 2021 incident involving another woman.

Henderson appeared in a Shelby County court Thursday morning to face the charges. A deputy from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department escorted him into court and stood by his attorney, the Shelby County public defender.

The judge granted Henderson a $1,425,000 bond on the charges in this case, although he has no bond on the charges related to Fletcher.

Henderson’s attorney pleaded not guilty to all three charges and asked for the case to go to trial.

The Shelby County judge also cited Henderson’s prior conviction for aggravated kidnapping nearly two decades ago. Court records show Henderson pleaded guilty to the charge in November 2001 and was released in November 2020.

As a felony, Henderson could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted of aggravated rape or kidnapping, the judge said Thursday morning.

Henderson’s next court appearance is set for Friday, Nov. 4.

The charges come nearly two weeks after Fletcher, 34, went out for an early morning jog in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis and didn’t return home. His disappearance sparked an intense manhunt — police surveillance video showed him being forced into an SUV — that led to Henderson’s arrest last Saturday near his Memphis home.

Fletcher’s body was found near a vacant duplex last week, authorities said.

He was the grandson of hardware magnate Joseph Orgill III, who died in 2018 at the age of 80. Tennessee-based Orgill has annual sales of $3 billion, according to the company.