Niagara Gazette

Courts

July 4, 2013

Accused child killer changes course and admits guilt in 5-year-old's murder

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — After discussions that apparently began late last week, a Falls teen accused of killing a 5-year-old pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence.

John Freeman Jr. made the stunning plea less than an hour after Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III had ruled that his lawyer could use a so-called “insanity defense” in the case.

The sudden reversal in Freeman’s plea shocked many courtroom observers but was hailed by Falls police detectives.

“I’m glad that he pled guilty and I’m looking forward to his sentencing,” Detective Capt. William Thomson said. “I’m surprised his (plea) changed, but it was pretty evident he was guilty from the get-go. He admitted (killing Isabella Tennant).”

Law enforcement sources said the possibility of a plea in the case apparently surfaced after arguments in front of Murphy last week over the proposed insanity defense 

Earlier Wednesday morning, Murphy said changes in court filings made on Monday by defense attorney Roberta Viola had convinced him that prosecutors had been given enough specifics about the planned psychiatric defense. Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma had argued, a week earlier, that Viola should be barred from using an insanity defense because he hadn’t specifically indicated what mental illness Freeman suffered from.

Sloma said Viola didn’t identify “a specific psychiatric (illness)” for Freeman. She said reports, submitted by experts who examined Freeman, suggested between six and eight possible psychiatric disorders that he may have. 

Viola argued that Freeman killed Tennant during an “extreme emotional disturbance.”

Neither Viola, nor prosecutors would comment on the guilty plea, citing a judicial gag order on the lawyers in the case.

Murphy made no commitment on a possible reduction in sentence for Freeman. 

“There isn’t enough time for what he did, in my book,” Thomson said.

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