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

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A judge on Monday set a trial date for a man charged in the kidnapping and killing of a school teacher while she was on an early morning run in Memphis, Tennessee.

Shelby County Judge Lee Coffee set Cleotha Abston's trial on first-degree murder, especially 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 she was jogging before dawn near the University of Memphis on Sept. 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 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 charges 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 weapon. The sentences will run consecutively, or one after the other.

Ganguli said Abston is appealing the rape verdict.

“I do not believe for a second that he raped or kidnapped or had a gun, that he put a gun to that woman,” Ganguli told reporters after the sentencing hearing.

Abston was not arrested on the rape charges before Fletcher’s killing because of a long delay in processing the sexual assault kit, authorities have 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 a flood of support for her family. Runners in Memphis and several other cities held an early-morning running events in her honor a week after she was abducted. A second run honoring Fletcher was held last year.

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

Adrian Sainz, The Associated Press