ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- A former Utica-area man was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder in the 2012 slaying of his girlfriend inside her college dorm room.
Jurors deliberating the fate of Clayton Whittemore needed only a little more than two hours over two days to return their verdict in state Supreme Court.
In the moments that followed Friday's verdict, as the courtroom's back rows full of reporters sent the news out to the world via their smartphones, Becky Kogut, the mother of victim Alexandra Kogut, tweeted out five poignant words: "Justice for my sweet baby."
Now 22, Whittemore could be sentenced by state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Doyle to 25 years to life in prison at a hearing July 16. Jurors rejected a defense plea to convict the former high school hockey star on a lesser first-degree manslaughter charge. Jurors determined that his childhood of severe abuse at the hands of his father was not a mitigating factor in the murder.
Calm and emotionless as the jury forewoman affirmed the unanimous verdict, Whittemore was taken from court in handcuffs as his mother, Sandra Whittemore, exited weeping and Kogut family members hugged and cried.
Over three weeks of testimony, with 35 witnesses questioned and hundreds of individual, often graphic photographs and pieces of evidence painstakingly introduced, District Attorney Sandra Doorley built her case that the early morning Sept. 29, 2012, slaying inside 17-year-old Kogut's dorm room at The College at Brockport was a domestic violence killing fueled by Whittemore's rage and anger. She established that Whittemore had a volatile temper and a pattern of rough, aggressive behavior with his ex-girlfriends.
She said the verdict was just.
"This was one of the most brutal and violent murders I have seen in my career," she said. "You know, the more I do this, the more personal these cases become for me. I really felt connected to the victim. I needed to be her voice in the courtroom and I needed to fight for Alex. And, I did."
Paige Whitney, a friend of Alex Kogut, said the end of the trial was bittersweet.
"Yes, justice has been served, but this does not bring back my friend," she said.
In the aftermath of the slaying, Whitney's mother Sandra Whitney founded the Purple Pinkie Charitable Foundation in Alexandra Kogut's honor to help raise awareness of dating violence.
While Whittemore's trial is over, Sandra Whitney said, there are still many families affected every day by domestic abuse and its repercussions.
"We need to find ways to protect and support those who are touched by domestic violence," she said.
Doorley echoed that sentiment.
"I think this case strikes at the heart of domestic violence," she said. "These were adolescents, just beginning their dating life and it shows that anyone can be a victim. We need to send the message to our sons and daughters that they have got to be aware in their relationships and be able to stand up for themselves."
Kogut and Whittemore family members leaving the courtroom on Friday declined to comment.
Defense attorney Mark Curley said he and his client were disappointed by the jury's finding.