CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A jury has recommended the death penalty for Christopher Whitaker, who shot and killed Alianna DeFreeze, 14.
He will be sentenced by a judge on March 5.
Whitaker, 45, was previously found guilty of aggravated murder and charges including kidnapping and rape in DeFreeze’s death. Her body was found in an abandoned home in Cleveland in January 2017, three days after her mother reported her missing when she didn’t arrive at school.
Authorities say Alianna was beaten and stabbed and the South Euclid man’s DNA matched evidence.
Whitaker told investigators he was high on cocaine and blacked out.
“I'm just happy that justice was finally served for Alianna,” said Donnesha Cooper, Alianna’s mother. “He got what the law thought he deserved, but it's too good for him.”
Cooper said she feels “overwhelming relief” that the trial is now over and she can begin the healing process. Some jurors hugged her after their decision was read in court.
“The Cleveland police officers and prosecutors and all of the detectives, thank you for all of your hard work and perseverance in helping to convict him and helping find my daughter,” Cooper said.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mahmoud Awadallah said justice in this case called for the death penalty.
“This is, I think, every parent's nightmare. Your child going to school, should be arriving at school,” Awadallah said.
Damon DeFreeze, Alianna’s father, said the decision does not lessen his pain.
“I just ask that you please watch your children. There’s a lot of Christopher Whitakers out here,” DeFreeze said. “I want this man to experience hell on earth before he experiences hell in the afterlife.”