Sixteen months after he was kidnapped at gunpoint and thrown into the trunk of his car, attorney Kemper Durand watched with some regret last week as two juveniles involved in the case were given prison sentences.
Durand was walking to his car around 2 a.m. on May 25, 2000, after attending a par ty on Beale Street when a lone gunman walked up behind him, took his wallet, and forced him into the trunk. The abductor, Cleotha Abston, drove around and picked up friends then, after about two hours, escorted Durand into a Mapco station to withdraw money from an ATM. A uniformed Memphis Housing Authority officer entered, Durand yelled that he had been kidnapped, and the kidnappers ran away.
On Monday, Abston pled guilty just before he was scheduled to go to trial and was sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole. He had earlier turned down an offer of 15 years on the same charge but, according to Durand, told the court Òhe did not want to sign his name giving himself the time.Ó Abston has a long juvenile record of theft and aggravated assault.
It was the sentencing of the second defendant that gave Durand pause. Marquette Cobbins was 17 years old at the time of the incident. He was one of the friends picked up by Abston after he kidnapped Durand. His prior court record consisted of a truancy violation and a disorderly con duct charge.
ÒHe was literally sitting on the porch when Abston came by,Ó says Durand. ÒAny kid who could grow up where he did and have only two miniscule run-ins I figure is probably pretty decent material.Ó
Durand wrote a letter to District Attorney Bill Gibbons urging probation for Cobbins if he would submit to conditions including supervision by a private probation service, high school graduation, repaying Durand $195 for the money in his wallet and towing charges for his car, and undergoing a mentoring program.
The proposal was turned down and Cobbins pled guilty to aiding a kidnapping. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years and will be eligible for parole in 18 months.
Durand says he feels bad about that and is also dismayed at the pace of justice.
ÒCleotha Abston spent almost 16 months in jail before today,Ó Durand says. ÒPerhaps this is one reason why the jail is overcrowded.Ó