Niagara Gazette

January 24, 2013

Suspect in child slaying moving forward with possible insanity defense

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — The Falls teen accused in the murder of a 5-year-old girl is moving forward with a potential insanity defense.

Defense attorney Robert Viola told prosecutors and Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III on Thursday that John Robert Freeman Jr. will undergo thee days of examination by a forensic psychologist as he looks to gather so-called psychiatric evidence in the case. The examination will take place Feb. 11 to 13.

After that, a report from the psychologist will be sent to Murphy and the prosectors. Prosecutors are also expected to ask for an opportunity to have their own expert psychologist examine Freeman.

The examinations are expected to push back Freeman's trial date from late February until sometime later in the spring or summer. Murphy did remind the attorneys though that, "We know the importance of the trial moving along."

Both sides in the case agreed to a hearing on whether a statement Freeman made to police can be used at his trial.

Freeman, 18, faces charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence in the slaying of Isabella Tennant. His friend and co-defendant Tyler Best, 20, is charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence.

Both Freeman and Best have pleaded not guilty. 

Tennant was reported missing about 6:20 a.m. on Aug. 27, when patrol officers were called to her great grandmother's home in the 400 block of Sixth Street. The great grandmother told police Isabella had disappeared overnight.

Freeman has been described by members of Tennant's family as a “close” and “trusted” friend. They also said that it was not uncommon for him to be in the great grandmother’s home and be around Isabella without supervision.

While detectives questioned Freeman, Best arrived at Falls police headquarters and told investigators he had information about Tennant's disappearance. He then led police to a trash can in the alley behind 531 Third St., where Tennant's body was found.

Investigators have said they are convinced that Freeman was the killer and Best only helped to dispose of Tennant's body.

It's believed Freeman may have provided some motive for the killing in a statement he made to Falls Police detectives. Both detectives and prosecutors have declined to comment on the motive for the murder.

An autopsy on Tennant's body, conducted by the Erie County Medical Examiner, concluded the cause of death as "asphyxiation due to mechanical obstruction of (her) airway and compression of the neck."

In a statement released by Falls police after the teens were charged, detectives said, “At this time we believe Freeman killed Isabella with his bare hands." Investigators also said there were some signs of "trauma" on Tennant’s body, but “no evidence of sexual abuse.”