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updated: 8/12/2014 8:57 PM

Chicago man gets life in prison for 1994 murder of Waukegan store owner

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  • Hezekiah Whitfield waits to speak with Lake County Judge Mark L. Levitt at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, on Tuesday. Whitfield waived his right to appear at his sentencing for the 1994 murder of Waukegan store owner Fred Reckling.

      Hezekiah Whitfield waits to speak with Lake County Judge Mark L. Levitt at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, on Tuesday. Whitfield waived his right to appear at his sentencing for the 1994 murder of Waukegan store owner Fred Reckling.
    pool photo by Stacey Westcott/Chicago Tribune

  • Hezekiah Whitfield appears before his sentencing at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, on Tuesday, to waive his right to appear at his sentencing for the murder of Waukegan business owner Fred Reckling in 1994.

      Hezekiah Whitfield appears before his sentencing at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, on Tuesday, to waive his right to appear at his sentencing for the murder of Waukegan business owner Fred Reckling in 1994.
    pool photo by Stacey Westcott/Chicago Tribune

  • Lake County Judge Mark L. Levitt speaks with Hezekiah Whitfield about the his right to not appear at his sentencing at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, on Tuesday. Whitfield was sentenced to life in prison for the 1994 murder of Waukegan business owner Fred Reckling.

      Lake County Judge Mark L. Levitt speaks with Hezekiah Whitfield about the his right to not appear at his sentencing at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, on Tuesday. Whitfield was sentenced to life in prison for the 1994 murder of Waukegan business owner Fred Reckling.
    pool photo by Stacey Westcott/Chicago Tribune

  • Hezekiah Whitfield

      Hezekiah Whitfield

  • Jennifer Ciok, granddaughter of Fred Reckling, reads a victim impact statement during the sentencing of Hezekiah Whitfield in the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan on Tuesday. Whitfield waived his right to be present at the sentencing hearing. Judge Mark L. Levitt sentenced Whitfield to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole.

      Jennifer Ciok, granddaughter of Fred Reckling, reads a victim impact statement during the sentencing of Hezekiah Whitfield in the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan on Tuesday. Whitfield waived his right to be present at the sentencing hearing. Judge Mark L. Levitt sentenced Whitfield to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole.
    pool photo by Stacey Westcott/Chicago Tribune

  • Kristine Clemens, daughter of Fred Reckling, reads a victim impact statement during the sentencing of Hezekiah Whitfield at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan on Tuesday.

      Kristine Clemens, daughter of Fred Reckling, reads a victim impact statement during the sentencing of Hezekiah Whitfield at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan on Tuesday.
    pool photo by Stacey Westcott/Chicago Tribune

  • Kristine Clemens speaks with Lake County prosecutors after the sentencing of Hezekiah Whitfield for the murder of her father, Fred Reckling, at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan on Tuesday.

      Kristine Clemens speaks with Lake County prosecutors after the sentencing of Hezekiah Whitfield for the murder of her father, Fred Reckling, at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan on Tuesday.
    pool photo by Stacey Westcott/Chicago Tribune

 
 

Calling him an "extraordinarily violent and dangerous person," a Lake County judge sentenced Hezekiah Whitfield to life in prison for murdering a 71-year-old Waukegan store owner in 1994.

But the Chicago man was not in the courtroom when Judge Mark Levitt handed down the sentence in the murder of Fred Reckling of Waukegan at his Grand Appliance store. Levitt excused Whitfield from the hearing earlier Tuesday after he exercised his right to not appear at his own sentencing.

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"The only appropriate sentence for him is natural life in prison without the possibility of parole," Levitt said.

Whitfield, 44, will make one last appearance before Levitt on Aug. 19. Levitt said the meeting will be to inform Whitfield of his right to appeal the April verdict and the sentence.

"The judge was absolutely correct in his ruling," said Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim after the hearing. "Asking for a life sentence is something we don't do lightly, but it's absolutely warranted in this case."

A jury convicted Whitfield of murder in April for using a cloth-wrapped gun to bludgeon Reckling to death during an armed robbery Dec. 8, 1994.

Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Scheller said Whitfield entered and confronted Reckling in the Grand Appliance store on Grand Avenue at closing time. The two struggled near the front of the store, Scheller said, but the fatal blow took place near a row of refrigerators deeper inside the building after Reckling tried to get away.

After the attack, Whitfield stole cash from the store, and Reckling's wallet and car keys, then drove the victim's car to Chicago where he abandoned it.

Police initially zeroed in on James Edwards, now 66, and charged him with killing Reckling. However, despite being convicted of murdering Reckling in 1996, DNA evidence cleared Edwards of the crime in 2012.

The same DNA evidence obtained from the vehicle and the store matched Whitfield's, and was the primary evidence prosecutors used to convict him.

Edwards remains in prison for an unrelated armed robbery conviction.

Whitfield was not in the courtroom when defense attorney Gillian Gosch said he "maintains his innocence" and was requesting the minimum sentence allowed by law.

However, one of Reckling's daughters and two of his grandchildren testified during the sentencing hearing to push for the maximum sentence for Whitfield.

All three described Reckling as a caring person, an avid Cubs fan, and someone who would do anything for his children and grandchildren.

Reckling was a gentle man and a gentleman," daughter Kristine Clemens said through tears. "Parents give you a foundation, and when that's gone, it's not easy."

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