Sentencing deliberations to continue Friday for man convicted of killing Alianna DeFreeze

CLEVELAND-- A Cuyahoga County jury will continue deliberating whether to recommend the death penalty for convicted killer Christopher Whitaker.

Deliberations began around 3:15 p.m. on Thursday, following a second day of testimony in the sentencing phase of Whitaker's trial. Whitaker took the stand for the first time Thursday morning and apologized for his actions.

The jury left Thursday evening without reaching a decision. They will return Friday morning to consider a recommendation for Whitaker's sentence.

Reading from a prepared statement for less than two minutes, Whitaker appeared unemotional.

"I apologize to the family and community for my actions," Whitaker read. "There is no excuse for what I've done. I can't imagine the pain the family feels, but I know the pain I felt when I had to look at what I'd done."

Last week, following the first phase of the trial, a jury convicted the 45-year-old on 10 counts, including aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping, in the brutal torture of 14-year-old Alianna DeFreeze. Whitaker abducted the teen on her way to school in January 2017, then raped her and used tools to kill her in a vacant house on Fuller Avenue in Cleveland.

"From the beginning, I have accepted full responsibility for my actions," Whitaker testified. "I've admitted to my guilt to the detectives and to my lawyers. I asked my lawyers not to contest or challenge anything in this case because I really wanted the DeFreeze family to have closure."

Whitaker's attorneys are trying to keep him off of death row by presenting mitigating circumstances, through expert testimony about his drug use, troubled childhood and anger issues. Whitaker claimed he was high on cocaine and blacked out at the time of the murder.

"I will not hide behind drugs or alcohol. I will not pretend or lie because it wouldn't be fair to the family," Whitaker testified.

A defense psychologist testified Wednesday that Whitaker dissociated from his actions, but a state psychiatrist testified that the evidence does not show that. Dr. Sara West also noted variations in Whitaker's story during an interrogation and his expressed lack of remorse during a recorded jailhouse phone call.

"In reference to his possible release from jail he said quote, 'When I come walking out of this motherf*****, I'm going to tell everybody to kiss my a**. I ain't gonna show no remorse, no nothing, kiss my motherf****** d*** b****.' End quote," West testified.

A prison expert testified Whitaker will likely face violence from other inmates while incarcerated.

"I don't care whether you're with the Arian Brotherhood, the Gangster Disciples, the Mexican Mafia, they have one common denominator: they hate sex offenders and child murderers," said prison and jail criminal justice consultant James Aiken.

Whitaker said he prays Alianna's family can find peace.

"If I could go back to that day in January and change everything I would, but I can't so I have to live each day with the shame hurt and guilt," Whitaker testified.

Prosecutors said the brutal circumstances of the murder should outweigh any mitigating factors.

"Give him death because that is better than what he did," assistant county prosecutor Mahmoud Awadallah said during closing arguments.

Continuing coverage of this story here