By Rick Pfeiffer firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — John Freeman stood at the defense table in Judge Matthew J. Murphy III’s courtroom Thursday afternoon, hung his head and cried.
Across from the admitted killer of little Isabella Tennant, stood her uncle, Jack Tennant. He was in court representing his brother, Isabella’s father, Michael, and read a withering statement from him.
“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,” Tennant said, reading from his brother’s words. “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.”
Then, in a reference to Freeman, and his co-defendant Tyler Best, Tennant said, “I hope those two burn and rot in hell.”
Given an opportunity to reply, Freeman in a mumbled voice that was barely audible in the courtroom, expressed remorse. Turning slightly, to look at Isabella’s family members and friends, he said, “I’m so sorry for all their family. I’m just sorry. I can’t say anything else.”
If Freeman was at a loss for words, Second Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma was not.
“This was a brutal killing,” she said. “He killed her with his bare hands.”
The veteran prosecutor said she’d never seen experienced and hardened police investigators so “stunned” by what had happened to the little girl, who was first reported missing and then was found, stuffed in a trash bag and buried in a garbage can.
Best of Buffalo helped dispose of the body but went to Falls police the morning after and confessed to police. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 27 after pleading guilty to evidence tampering and hindering prosecution.
“I thought to myself, this doesn’t happen here,” Sloma said. “But it did. And we’re left to figure out why it happened, But we still don’t know.”
Freeman’s defense had considered a possible insanity defense in the case. But abandoned that when experts could only identity that Freeman may have had fetal alcohol syndrome, a diagnosis his attorneys said was insufficient for an insanity plea.
The experts said the syndrome might have caused Freeman to act irrationally when he, while watching Isabella, could not get her to go to sleep. Sloma scoffed at that explanation.
“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,” she said. “This is what makes him so dangerous, He couldn’t even tell us why (he killed Isabella).”
Sloma described Freeman as “calm and deliberate” in describing “the killing in cold detail.”
“He showed no remorse,” she said. “He is a dangerous individual. A person who killed a baby with his bare hands and couldn’t explain why.”
Sloma said investigators even looked to see if the murder might have been the result of an attempted sexual assault. Freeman was blunt in his response.
“He said, ‘I didn’t rape her. I just killed her’,” Sloma said.
Murphy had already agreed to a sentence of 22 years to life in prison for Freeman’s guilty plea to charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence. Yet, before he imposed the sentence, the judge took the opportunity to express his own sense of outrage over the crime.
“Every now and then, a crime comes along that is so depraved that even the most hardened heart must feel the outrage,” Murphy said. “You choked the life out of that little girl for no reason.”
Outside the courtroom, Jack Tennant rejected Freeman’s remorse and said the sentence was what he had expected.
“(Freeman’s) not sorry. He’s definitely not sorry,” Tennant said. “The judge followed the law. I’d be satisfied if (Freeman) never saw the light of day.”