Niagara Gazette

December 21, 2013

TOP STORIES (10): Prison sentences, memorial mark end of Isabella Tennant murder case

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — In 2012, it was a crime that left Falls residents shaken by its randomness and brutality.

By the end of 2013, the two teens accused of killing 5-year-old Isabella Tennant, and leaving her body in a trash bag buried in a garbage can in the 500 block alley of Third Street, had received justice.

For the admitted killer, John Freeman Jr., it was a sentence of 22 years to life in prison for his guilty plea to charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence.

Tyler Best, Freeman’s best friend, who helped him dispose of Tennant’s body, but then led frantic police investigators to her remains, was judged to be a “youthful offender” and sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 16 months to four years on an evidence tampering charge and 12 months to three years on a charge of hindering prosecution. 

He may soon be eligible for release and parole.

Even with the guilty pleas by Freeman and Best and their prison sentences, the end of the case did little to explain why the killing happened. Nor did it give much comfort to Tennant’s fractured family.

In a letter from Isabella’s father, read in court at Freeman’s sentencing, the irreplaceable loss of a child was apparent.

“I’m truly sorry I couldn’t muster the strength to be in a room with the disgusting animal who strangled a 5-year-old girl,” Isabella’s father wrote. “This disgusting animal killed my daughter. There is not one second I am not in pain. Freeman, do yourself a favor and hope you die before you see the light of day. I will be watching and waiting for you.”

Prosecutors in the case said they desperately looked for a motive for the murder, wondering if Freeman had, perhaps, tried to sexually assault the child and accidentally killed her.

Freeman’s response was, “I didn’t rape her. I just killed her.” 

“We know that the last words Isabella spoke were, ‘It’s your turn to color.’ I’m puzzled how that triggered the brutal murder of a little girl,” Second Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma asked aloud. “This is what makes him so dangerous, He couldn’t even tell us why (he killed Isabella). He showed no remorse. He is a dangerous individual. A person who killed a baby with his bare hands and couldn’t explain why.”

In the case of Best, his lawyer said he feared not cooperating with Freeman when it came to disposing of the body. And, when Freeman fell asleep after the body was buried in the trash can, Best reached out to relatives to take him to the police.

Investigators have said, without Best’s cooperation, they might never have found Tennant’s body.

“It would have been very difficult to solve this without (Best’s) help,” Falls Police Criminal Investigation Division Capt. William Thomson said. “I imagine his conscience was bothering him.”

Best, in a letter to the court, expressed his regret.

“I’d like to extend my deepest apologies,” Best wrote. “We all have done things we regret. My role in this tragedy will be the biggest regret of my life. I feel terrible about the role I played and I wish I could take it back.”

In November, family and friends dedicated a memorial to Isabella at Duck Island in Hyde Park. It was one of Isabella’s favorite places to play in the park. 

A chiseled stone marker and a freshly planted cherry tree mark the memorial. Engraved on the stone is a message that reads: “In Loving Memory of Isabella Tennant. May this tree be a symbol of her love and spirit.”

“There are moments in life when you wish you could bring someone down from heaven and spend the day with them, kiss them one more time and tell them you love them,” Isabella’s aunt, Susan Wendt said. “This tree will be a great reminder of Bella.”

TOP 10 The Gazette is counting down its top stories of 2013 through Jan. 1.