Niagara Gazette

November 14, 2012

Suspect keeps lawyer

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT -- A Falls teen, accused in the murder of a 5-year-old girl, will hang on to his defense attorney.

Defense attorney Robert Viola had asked Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III for "two weeks" to "clarify" whether he would continue to represent John Robert Freeman Jr., after his arraignment on charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence in the slaying of Isabella Tennant.

Viola has now told Murphy he has been "retained" and will continue to represent Freeman.

Freeman, 17, of the Falls, and Tyler Scott Best, 18, of Buffalo, have each pleaded not guilty to charges in the slaying of Tenant. Best is charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence.

Both teens have been held without bail since their arrests. Despite their ages, both teens have been charged as adults in the case.

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.”