(WKBN) — The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a man convicted of murdering a 14-year-old girl can still be put to death.
Christopher Witaker was sentenced to death in the 2017 rape and murder of a seventh-grade student who was on her way to school when she encountered Whitaker.
Her body was found inside a vacant house on Fuller Avenue. A drill, box cutter, screwdriver, hammer and nut driver and a torn condom were found at the scene. Some of the tools had blood on them.
Whitaker was arrested in February 2017 after his DNA was identified from samples collected from the victim.
Investigators said that the victim died from multiple injuries and puncture wounds consistent with the tools that were found at the scene.
Part of Whitaker’s appeal was that the jury did not hear his offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison.
Justice Patrick F. Fischer explained that Whitaker forcibly entered a vacant house with the victim and then raped, tortured and murdered her with a power drill and other tools. The crimes were “horrific” and support the imposition of the death penalty.
Justice Jennifer Brunner disagreed with the approval of the trial court’s decision to not allow the jury to consider Whitaker’s life in prison offer, but she agreed that the death sentence should be affirmed.
On appeal, Whitaker has taken issue with how the indictment was handled, the listing of the charges, the aggravated circumstances and how each count was weighed, saying his constitutional rights were violated. The Court did decide to vacate the burglary charge concluding that the house where the victim was found was not a permanent or temporary dwelling and that there was not enough evidence to convict him of burglary, an aggravating circumstance to the murder and a death penalty specification.
Whitaker also claimed that he had ineffective counsel because his attorney did not object to the burglary or kidnapping charge, however, the panel wrote that his argument pertaining to that is “moot” and was not addressed.
Currently, there is a moratorium on executions in Ohio due to the unavailability of lethal injection drugs. Lethal Injection is the only approved form of execution in the state.
While some legislators are calling for the death penalty in Ohio to be abolished, others, such as Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, wants the General Assembly to approve other methods of execution such as apoxia and firing squad.