Niagara Gazette


December 20, 2012

Insanity defense coming for teen charged in 5-year-old's death

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — A Falls teen, accused in the murder of a 5-year-old girl, may use an insanity defense.

Defense attorney Robert Viola has notified both prosecutors and Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III that he is looking at using "psychiatric evidence" in the trial of John Robert Freeman Jr. The Falls teenager faces charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence in the slaying of Isabella Tennant.

By law, if Viola wants to use an insanity defense at Freeman's trial, he must tell the judge and prosecutors in the case during the early stages of the proceedings. Viola made that notification in a motion filed last week.

Second Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma told Murphy that prosecutors had "questions" about Viola's possible use of psychiatric evidence. She also raised concerns about potential delays in Freeman's trial posed by the need to involve psychiatric experts.

"(Viola) has indicated it could be five to six months before the expert of his choice could meet with Mr. Freeman," Sloma said. "We would object to that amount of time being needed for the evidence to be gathered."

Sloma reminded Murphy that, "The people are ready for trial."

A trial for Freeman, and his co-defendant Tyler Scott Best, is set for early February.

Freeman, 18, of the Falls, and Best, 20, of Buffalo, have each pleaded not guilty in the slaying of Tenant. Best is charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence.

Murphy also expressed concern about the length of time Viola said he would need to have the psychiatric testing on his client done. Viola said a forensic psychologist from Children's Hospital has already examined Freeman.

Based on that examination, Viola said he was advised that further testing and an examination should be done by an Amherst-based neuro-psychologist. That expert told Viola she would need until April to complete her work.

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