“I can see the evil that’s in him and we have to tell everybody, this is what evil looks like.”
It was the 26th of January 2017. A Thursday. At 4pm that afternoon, Donnesha Cooper expected to see her daughter, fourteen year old Alianna DeFreeze, walk through the front door of their Cleveland home in Ohio, United States. She left early that morning as she had an early class at school. When Alianna wasn’t home just after 4pm, Donnesha called the school to ask them if Alianna was still there. They informed her that she didn’t show up for classes that day.
Donnesha was extremely worried. Alianna had a developmental disorder and would not have gone anywhere that she wasn’t supposed to go. When she wasn’t at school, she played with her baby dolls and cared for her younger brother. Alianna left for school that morning to get the 6.45am bus on East 149th Street north of Kinsman Avenue. So where did she go after she left the house that morning?
Donnesha reported Alianna missing to the police. As with all missing child cases, time is crucial and as Donnesha thought her daughter was at school all day, the search for Alianna only began ten hours after she was last seen. The school, despite Alianna never missing a day before without prior notice, never notified Donnesha that she wasn’t at classes that day.
The police obtained surveillance footage from the area from a number of different businesses in a bid to try to track Alianna’s movements. They established that she got on the Regional Transit Authority bus about 6.45am on East 149th Street north of Kinsman Avenue and got off the bus to switch lines at East 93rd and Kinsman Avenue. But Alianna never made it on to the second bus.
Surveillance footage established a person of interest that police needed to identify. A man was seen on the footage. The man is seen walking up and down the street and when Alianna appears on the footage, she takes two steps backwards and then continues to walk past the man. The man follows her.
CCTV Still of Alianna DeFreeze on the bus that morning
Police searched the area and three days after Alianna was reported missing, they searched an abandoned house. They saw the door was open and entered. The house had no electricity and they had to bring light in with them so they could see.
When they entered the house, they saw bloody footprints and smear stains of blood throughout the house. In the bedroom, they found a training bra, a ripped black school sweater, a black shoe and a ripped condom wrapper. Police found Alianna’s body. She had been brutally beaten, raped, tortured with tools and stabbed.
The man on the surveillance was identified as Christopher Whitaker. Police questioned him and he told them that he heard about Alianna from news reports and had never met her. He said that he was doing drywall work on some houses in the area the day she went missing.
When asked if he had ever been to the abandoned house, he told police he was there a few days before Alianna went missing. He told police that he was there with another guy and they took the hot water heater and some metal from the house. According to Christopher, he and a man called Boogie scrapped some metal from the house.
Christopher’s DNA was a match to the DNA profile obtained from items found in the house and on Alianna’s body. Police asked him how his semen was found inside Alianna’s body if he never met her before. Christopher told police:
"I'm a crackhead, I get high and do stupid sh** for money."
Christopher told police that he and two other men got high in the abandoned house and at first, he said that he didn’t touch Alianna, he just masturbated. He then told police that he had consensual sex with Alianna.
During questioning, he asked police for some water and told them that he “just wants to die right now.”
Christopher was charged with aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence and offenses against a human corpse in the death of Alianna.
At his Trial, it was the Prosecution’s case that it was a violent and premeditated murder, one that deserved a sentence no less than the death penalty. Christopher had abducted Alianna when she was on her way to school, taken her to an abandoned house where he raped, tortured and killed her.
The Court heard about the house where Alianna’s body was found. Detective Carlin testified that you could tell there was "violent trauma" in the house due to the blood stains and splatters from various places in the house. There was a trail of blood that led from the hallway into a bedroom behind a closed door. The Court heard how one of the officers kicked in the door and found Alianna’s naked body in a corner of the bedroom. She was in a pool of blood. There were wounds to the back of her head and an eye.
The Medical Examiner testified about the injuries that Alianna received. The Court heard that Alianna survived the horrific violence inflicted on her for at least several hours until she was ultimately killed. Alianna was raped and then beaten and tortured and stabbed. A number of tools were used. The Jury were shown how marks on Alianna’s face matched a drill found close to her body. Other tools used included a screw driver, a hammer and a box cutter. One of her eyes was dislodged from its socket. Due to the extent of her injuries , the Medical Examiner could not say with any degree of certainty what Alianna’s exact cause of death was other than she was beaten and stabbed to death.
The Prosecutor, Mahmoud Awadallah, showed the Jury the Black and Decker drill, Phillips-head screw driver, nut driver and box cutter that were used on Alianna. He also showed them multiple photographs of the puncture wounds to Alianna's face and head.
The drill matched four puncture wounds to her cheek and a wound on her forehead that dislodged her right eyeball from its socket. The boxcutter matched several slash type wounds to Alianna's neck. The Court heard that there were too many slash wounds to count.
As many of the wounds showed signs of healing, that indicated that Alianna was alive for several hours after he inflicted them on her.
The Defense Attorney, Thomas Shaughnessy, told the Jury that Christopher does not contest the charges. They called no witnesses. It was clear that the focus of their case was in relation to the penalty phase. They did not want Christopher to get the death penalty.
The Jury deliberated for six hours and found Christopher guilty on all 10 charges of kidnapping, raping and killing Alianna. They recommended that he should receive the death sentence. The Judge could have sentenced him to life in prison but she agreed with the Jury and he received the death sentence along with a 48 year sentence that is separate from his death sentence for his convictions of aggravated burglary, rape, felonious assault, obstruction of justice and gross abuse of a corpse charges. In sentencing, Judge Carolyn Friedland, said:
“The circumstances that Christopher’s attorneys presented to convince jurors to spare his life pale in comparison to the barbarity of the evidence of what he did to the girl.”
Alianna’s mother, Donnesha Cooper, gave a statement after the sentence was handed down:
"I appreciate the jury for making their judgment and recommendation, but death is too good for him. And I won’t believe he has any remorse until he suffers like my daughter suffered. His apology means nothing to me."
When Christopher murdered Alianna, he was already a registered sex offender. In 2005, Christopher called a 45 year old woman several times throughout the night. He asked if he could use the restroom in her apartment at the Trinity Towers apartment complex on Rockside Road in Bedford Heights. She let him in. He choked her unconscious. Christopher sexually assaulted the woman while she was unconscious. He stabbed her twice in the neck with a pair of scissors.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello