CLEVELAND - A Cuyahoga County jury convicted Christopher Whitaker in the murder of a teen girl.
He was found guilty on all 10 counts, including aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape, burglary and abuse of a corpse. The sentencing phase will begin next Wednesday. That's when jurors will decide whether to recommend that Whitaker gets the death penalty.
During six days of testimony, jurors saw an interrogation in which Whitaker repeatedly changed his story before eventually confessing to the murder, claiming he was high on crack cocaine at the time.
Whitaker, 45, is on trial on charges of kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder in the January 2017 slaying of DeFreeze. She went missing on her way to school on Cleveland's east side. Her body was found by police in a vacant house on Fuller Avenue three days later.
Investigators testified that DNA evidence and a footprint in blood linked Whitaker to the crime. A deputy medical examiner testified that DeFreeze died of multiple wounds caused by tools found in the house.
Whitaker's attorneys said that he does not contest the charges against him and has taken responsibility for his actions. They appear to be focused on sparing his life during the death penalty phase of the trial, when they will present drug use as a mitigating factor.
“It has definitely not been easy, and I'm just trying to take it one day at a time and trying to be strong for my family,” Donesha Cooper, Alianna’s mother, told reporters after the verdict.
She said she is relieved that the first phase of the trial is over and feels justice is being served.
“The law was on our side and just anxious to go onto the next phase,” Cooper said. “Whatever the judge and jury see fit, I’m okay with that.”
Prosecutors said they are satisfied with the verdict.
“Our heart goes out to Alianna’s family, and we're just happy the jury followed the law and reached a just verdict,” said Andrew Santolli, assistant prosecuting attorney.