Niagara Gazette

June 27, 2013

Insanity defense ruling coming in Tenant homicide case

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III will rule on Wednesday on whether the defense in the Isabella Tennant murder case will be able to use a so-called "insanity defense."

Prosecutors argued Wednesday that the lawyer for John Freeman Jr. should be barred from presenting the defense to a jury because he hasn't specifically indicated what mental illness his client suffers from.

"(The motion for an insanity defense) fails to identify a specific psychiatric (illness)," Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma argued. 

Sloma said reports, submitted by experts who have examined Freeman, have suggest between six and eight possible psychiatric disorders that he may have. 

"It's not our task to figure out what (Freeman's) defense is," Sloma said. 

Defense attorney Robert Viola argued he has proposed a defense, claiming Freeman killed Tennant during an "extreme emotional disturbance."

"We are not proposing a defense of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect," Viola said. "Any psychiatric evidence would be for the limited purpose of showing emotional distress."

Viola told Murphy prosecutors were asking for an "impossibly high" pre-trial explanation of his psychiatric defense. Murphy seemed to disagree.

"I don't think the people are bending the rules in psychiatric cases beyond recognition," the judge said. 

Freeman, 17, faces charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence in the slaying of Tennant on Aug. 26.

In late December, Viola filed paperwork with the court that would allow him to present an insanity defense in the case. Jury selection for a trial in the case is set to begin on Aug. 19.

Police and prosecutors have maintained that Freeman killed the 5-year-old little girl and was then helped by his best friend, Tyler Best in disposing of her body in a garbage tote. Investigators have said that Best led them to Tennant's body after he showed up at police headquarters, appearing shaken and remorseful, on the morning of the little girl's disappearance.

Best came to police headquarters several hours after Falls police had begun a desperate hunt for Tennant. The little girl had been reported missing from her great-grandmother’s home, in the 400 block of Sixth Street.

The great-grandmother said the little girl had disappeared overnight and had last been seen with Freeman. Freeman was described as a "close family friend."

Not long after Best spoke with detectives, police made the grisly discovery of Tennant’s body. She was found dead, in a trash bag, buried in a garbage can in the 500 block alley of Third Street.

Best's attorney has said he will "renew" a motion to have his client's case separated from Freeman's murder trial. Best, 18, is charged with tampering with physical evidence and hindering prosecution in the case. 

with mug - NIA Freeman mug 062813 John Freeman Jr. Ruling coming