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More Truth In Sentencing

This information is provided by the office of 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley, M. D., who represents Giles and five other area counties.

Across the country, people are mourning the lives tragically stolen from individuals of the Memphis community.

As we reflect on the events that led to these murders, it is clear that the system failed to protect citizens from dangerous criminals. We need to do better.

The two men who committed these heinous crimes are repeat violent offenders who should have still been in prison at the time these crimes were committed.

Instead, they were released early from their sentences and allowed to terrorize innocent citizens on the streets of Memphis.

Cleotha Abston, 38, the criminal charged with Eliza Fletcher’s murder was released early from prison in 2020 after serving 20 years of a 24-year sentence for kidnapping Memphis-based attorney Kemper Durand. In 1998 at age 14, Abston was also convicted of rape. Similarly, Ezekiel Kelley, 19, the criminal charged with murder in the recent Memphis shooting spree tragedy, was released from prison in March after serving 11 months of a three-year sentence for aggravated assault.

To protect victims and ensure public safety, repeat violent offenders should not be released early from their prison sentences.

In the General Assembly this year we passed a law called “Truth in Sentencing” which provides true accountability for those who commit crimes.

Unfortunately, we did not pass this law soon enough. If we had, these violent criminals would have been required to serve their full sentences and five more Memphians would be alive.

Starting July 1, 2022, a person who commits one of eight different violent offenses, will be required to serve 100% of his/her sentence. Offenses this applies to are:

  • attempted first degree murder

  • second degree murder

  • vehicular homicide

  • aggravated vehicular homicide

  • especially aggravated kidnapping

  • especially aggravated robbery

  • carjacking

  • especially aggravated burglary

Another 16 offenses require 100% of the sentence to be served unless the inmate earns a satisfactory program performance such as a GED or job training. In these cases, credits could be used for parole eligibility once a person has served a minimum of 85% of their sentence.

"As a lawmaker, public safety is one of my top priorities," Hensley said.

"These recent tragic murders in Memphis have emphasized the importance of keeping dangerous criminals off our streets.

"I was glad to support Tennessee’s new Truth in Sentencing laws, and I will continue to do all I can to ensure Tennessee is tough-on-crime and prioritizes victims over criminals."

Tennessee Crime Labs Sllow To Test Sexual Assault Evidence

DNA evidence collected last year in a sexual assault case languished for nine months in storage at the Jackson Crime Lab, one of three Tennessee Bureau of Investigation forensic labs.

When Jackson lab staff pulled the sexual assault kit for testing in June, it took another five weeks for the first results to arrive in late August. Just days later, Eliza Fletcher disappeared while on an early morning jog in Memphis on Sept. 2.

Authorities now say Cleotha Henderson, the Memphis man accused of kidnapping and murdering Fletcher, was linked by that DNA evidence to a September 2021 sexual assault. He now faces charges in both cases.

But the critical delay in evidence testing in Henderson’s case isn’t a rare outlier in Tennessee. Many times, it can take up to a year for TBI to analyze evidence from a rape kit which can prolong an indictment against a perpetrator of a crime.

TBI is seeking 40 more employees to help shorten the time it takes to analyze evidence. In comparison to surrounding states, Tennessee has the highest number of submitted requests and analyzed per scientist.

A forensic laboratory staffing calculator provided by the West Virginia University Department of Business determined that the TBI Crime Laboratories required an additional 71 positions based upon 2019-20 data.

TBI restructured the division in July, moving a single manager to oversee multiple lab units. This freed “front-line supervisors” to perform casework, which increased case output. Hopefully this issue will improve over time with the increase in forensic scientists.

The situation will be closely monitored by the General Assembly to see if further action is needed because no issue is more important than the safety of the citizens of Tennessee.

Sen. Hensley may be contacted at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville TN, 37243, at 615-741-3100, toll free at 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100, or by fax at 615-253-0231.

His district address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald, TN 38462. His telephone number is 931-796-2018, cell phone is 931-212-8823, and e-mail: sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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