Thursday morning marked the start of opening statements and the beginning of a trial against a man accused of raping and murdering 14-year-old Alianna DeFreeze last year.
The defendant, 44-year-old Christopher Whitaker, is charged with kidnapping, rape, aggravated homicide and other charges.
Alianna was reported missing on Jan. 26 after she was last seen in the area of East 93rd Street and Kinsman Avenue after she got off an RTA bus she rode to school every day.
Her father and stepmother declined to be in the courtroom during opening statements — instead, they chose to stay out, not wanting to see any potentially gruesome evidence photos of the teen.
In the year since Alianna's death, her father, Damon DeFreeze said he is thankful to the city for keeping his family in their thoughts and prayers and it helps him to stay focused on his daughter's legacy — the Alianna DeFreeze Make A Change Foundation.
The Foundation's goal is getting children to school safely and demolishing derelict homes that sexual predators can use to hide and commit sexual crimes in.
On Jan. 26, 2017, Alianna was reported missing, her family never to see her alive again.
Several days later the teen's body was found in an abandoned home near the 9400 block of Fuller Avenue.
According to the medical examiner's office, the girl was beaten and stabbed to death. A positive identification had to be made from dental records.
Now, a year later, her family seeks justice but says, regardless of the trial's outcome, closure isn't something they expect to find.
"They say time heals all wounds. This is one that I don't think will be able to be healed," Damon said.
Whitaker, who is a registered sex offender, was previously convicted in 2005 of sexually assaulting a woman at her apartment in Bedford Heights. He served four years in prison.
Prosecutor's plan to seek the death penalty in his current case.
"I hope justice is served," Damon said.