Nearly a year ago, a 14-year-old girl who was on the way to school got off an RTA bus on Cleveland's east side and disappeared, never to be seen alive by her family again.
This week, 44-year-old Christopher Whitaker appeared in court on multiple charges in connection with her abduction and death.
Whitaker is accused of kidnapping, rape, aggravated homicide and other charges. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office plans to seek the death penalty.
The teen — Alianna DeFreeze — was reported missing on Jan. 26 after she was last seen in the area of East 93rd Street and Kinsman Avenue.
Days went by without any indication of what happened to her.
Her disappearance ignited a city-wide search and city officials held a press conference to announce a reward for any information regarding her whereabouts. Just hours after the press conference, authorities confirmed the worst.
A Cleveland police officer who had been searching through abandoned homes near the 9400 block of Fuller Avenue came across a body that matched Alianna's description.
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.
Whitaker has a previous criminal record. In 2005, he was convicted of felonious assault and sexual battery after he attacked a woman who was a mutual friend when he stopped at her apartment in Bedford Heights to use the bathroom. While at the apartment, Whitaker stabbed the woman with scissors, choked her until she passed out and sexually assaulted her, according to court records.
He was sentenced to four years in prison and registered as a sex offender. Whitaker was released in 2009.
The first phase of the trial began on Monday with jury selection. A date has not been set for opening statements.