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Delayed Rape Kit Testing Leads to Lawsuit: "You have to Fight for Yourself"

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Ben Wheeler/The Daily Memphian
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“I feel that my story could help other women,’’ Alicia Franklin, 22, told the Institute for Public Service Reporting and The Daily Memphian during an interview Sunday.

Earlier this month the abduction of Eliza Fletcher during her morning jog on Central Avenue brought National media attention to Memphis.

Though it would take several days to locate her body, police identified and arrested a suspect within hours using rapid DNA testing. But now the City of Memphis is being sued by a woman who says that same suspect, Cleotha Henderson (a.k.a. Abston) should not have been on the streets.

Alicia Franklin, 22, says she survived an attack by Henderson last year, but the handling of that investigation raises troubling questions about delays and testing in equity and race.

Franklin says she met Henderson on a dating app. She was intrigued. Still she resisted his pleas for a date. That changed one rainy day in September of 2021.

She agreed to meet him face to face.

"He was like, well, you know, 'you don't never respond to me. Can I please take you out?'," Franklin recalls. "I think that particular day I was actually in a good mood. I was like, you know what? Since he's so persistent. I ended up texting back. I was like, sure."

They agreed to meet at Henderson's apartment before heading to a local restaurant.

Franklin says Henderson was sitting on a stoop outside an apartment in The Lakes at Ridgeway, a sprawling complex in Memphis's Hickory Hill section. It was raining and they stepped inside to talk.

"Soon as I walked into the apartment, it was pitch black dark. Like it was just dark. But I'm thinking maybe we made it to his apartment at the same time," Franklin says. "So when I walked in the apartment from there, he put a gun to my neck and was like, "Bitch don't move, you know, or I'm gonna kill you."

Franklin says Henderson forced her through a patio door and into a car behind the apartment where he assaulted her.

He then brought her back inside the apartment.

"I said, can you please let me go? Please let me go. I said, 'I don't want to, you know, die this way.' I said if you gonna kill me, just kill me. Because at that point I didn't feel like could I get away, you know, I wasn't going to run from him. He had a gun. I really thought he was gonna shoot me in the back of my head because my back was towards him. I didn't think he would do all that, and let me go."

She says Henderson rummaged through her purse, stole some cash then left.

Franklin then called police. In her lawsuit accusing MPD of negligence, Franklin alleges police took her back to the crime scene, a vacant apartment, but didn't collect evidence.

Her suit says police ignored leads pointing to Henderson, even though records indicate he lived in the next door apartment. Her suit says police showed her a photo lineup that included Henderson, but when she couldn't make a positive identification, police said they would get a more recent photo. They never did, the suit alleges.

Franklin believes police didn't take her seriously.

"I mean, I was just the average black girl in the city of Memphis, you know," she says. "I just think it wasn't a priority, you know."

Police submitted a rape kit to the Tennessee State Crime Lab. It sat on a shelf for nine months before testing began. The DNA test results came back September 5th, three days after Eliza Fletcher disappeared.

They implicate Henderson, who is now charged with Franklin's assault. Her suit contends if police had acted earlier to arrest Henderson instead of waiting on DNA results, Fletcher would still be alive.

Community leader Andrea Neely spoke after watching Franklin's appearance Wednesday on the ABC news program Good Morning America, which broadcast the claims in her suit to a national audience.

"All victims should be taking seriously and made a priority, regardless of race economic status or what have you," Neely says.

Franklin says she's speaking up as a service to help others avoid similar victimization.

"You have to stand up for yourself. You have to fight for yourself, because nobody else will fight for you," Franklin says.

A spokesman for Mayor Jim Strickland's office said the city doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Marc Perrusquia is a journalist and director of the University of Memphis' Institute for Public Service Reporting.