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John Robert FREEMAN Jr.





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (16) - Child killer - An upstate teen killed a 5-year-old girl he was babysitting "with his bare hands" and, with the help of a friend, bagged her body and dumped it in an alleyway garbage can
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 27, 2008
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1992
Victim profile: Isabella Sara Tennant, 5
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Niagara Falls, Niagara County, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 22 years to life in prison on September 5, 2013

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John Robert Freeman Jr. Isabella Sara Tennant

Freeman's apology at sentencing no solace to slain 5-year-old girl

By Rick Pfeiffer - Niagara Gazette

September 6, 2013

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.”


Falls teen gets 22 years to life for strangling 5-year-old Cheektowaga girl

By Thomas J. Prohaska -

September 5, 2013

Lockport – John R. Freeman Jr. was denounced by Isabella M. Tennant’s father as a “disgusting animal” Thursday, as Freeman was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison for killing the 5-year-old girl in her great-grandparents’ Niagara Falls home.

Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III imposed the sentence, which was the most severe he could order under the terms of a July 3 plea bargain.

It was slightly less than the legal maximum of 25 years to life for second-degree murder, to which Freeman had pleaded guilty in the Aug. 26, 2012, death of the Cheektowaga girl.

Freeman was repentant in court. “I’m so sorry for all the family,” he said, choking back sobs as he turned toward the girl’s relatives. “I’m just sorry. I can’t say anything else.”

Deputy District Attorney Holly E. Sloma made it clear she hopes Freeman is never paroled.

She told Murphy that when he was questioned by Niagara Falls police, Freeman “was calm, cool and collected, pleasant as he could be with the detectives … He spoke in cold detail of how he murdered, with his bare hands, a defenseless 5-year-old girl.”

Freeman, 17, of Sixth Street, Niagara Falls, killed Isabella after he was left to watch her in the home of her great-grandparents, Hank and Sharon Lascelle of Sixth Street.

The girl’s mother, Crystal Walker, had left the child with the Lascelles while she went to her job at a Niagara Falls bar. The Lascelles went to bed and left the girl with Freeman, who was a nearby neighbor and family friend.

Freeman also had pleaded guilty to a lesser felony of tampering with physical evidence; the four-year prison sentence for that crime was merged with the murder sentence.

After the murder, Freeman awakened a friend, Tyler S. Best, 19, of Barnard Street, Buffalo, and told him what had happened.

Best, who was staying at Freeman’s house on the night of the killing, pleaded guilty Aug. 2 to tampering with physical evidence and first-degree hindering prosecution for helping Freeman hide the body in a garbage tote.

Best went to Niagara Falls Police Headquarters the morning after the murder, told detectives what had happened and led them to the body.

When he pleaded guilty, Best said he “felt threatened” that night by Freeman, who had apparently already been planning to dump the body.

“He held out a bag to me. We bagged her up and put her in a trash can,” Best said.

Best’s sentencing is set for Sept. 27.

He has been in jail ever since his confession. The time he has served will count toward the maximum sentence of 16 months to four years in prison, a cap that Murphy agreed to as part of a plea bargain.

Police said Freeman told them that Isabella wouldn’t go to sleep and that he ended up choking her to death.

“He couldn’t answer why,” Sloma said. “And that is what makes him, at 17 years old, so dangerous.”

Defense attorney Robert Viola said evidence produced by a pediatric neuropsychologist, who examined Freeman when a mental health defense was being considered, showed that Freeman suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum, a birth defect caused by his mother’s drinking while she was pregnant.

Viola said that disorder impaired Freeman’s decision-making abilities, but not so much that a mental health defense could have succeeded.

Murphy didn’t buy it. He told Freeman that fetal alcohol spectrum is “still no excuse for your behavior.”

The judge said, “You crushed her life with no more thought than someone might crush a butterfly.”

Jack Tennant, of Lancaster, the brother of Isabella’s father, Michael Tennant, read a letter that Michael wrote instead of coming to court, because, according to the letter, he felt he might not be able to control himself if he saw Freeman.

The letter called Freeman “this disgusting animal who thought he was so tough that he had to choke a 5-year-old girl.”

He also wrote, “Freeman, do yourself a favor. Hope and pray that I, Isabella’s father, die before you get out of prison, because I will be watching and waiting for you. I’d like to see you choke me.”

Crystal Walker has moved out of state and did not attend the sentencing. The dead girl’s great-aunt, Linda Schram, told reporters, “Isabella is gone forever, and I don’t think any sentence can justify that. But as you can see, Isabella is not forgotten.”

Schram was one of a group of relatives who held up framed photos of the girl for media cameras.

Sloma said that after detectives told him of Best’s confession, Freeman said, “Well, it looks like I’m going away for the rest of my life.”

“Yeah. I hope so,” Sloma said.


Accused killer John Freeman pleads guilty in Isabella Tenant case

By Rick Pfeiffer - Niagara Gazette

July 3, 2013

Accused child killer John Freeman, in a stunning move, pled guilty to two counts in the murder of 5-year-old Isabella Tenant during a hearing Wednesday in Niagara County Court.

He pled to the charges he was facing — second-degree murder and tampering with evidence.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 5.

Freeman was in court Wednesday to hear a ruling from Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III on whether his defense in the Tennant murder case would be able to use a so-called "insanity defense."


Teen's admission that he killed Isabella Tennant can be used at trial

By Rick Pfeiffer - Niagara Gazette

April 4, 2013

Lockport — After two hours of denials to detectives, John Freeman Jr. confessed to killing 5-year-old Isabella Tennant after finding out that his close friend Tyler Best had led police to her body.

Now, Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III has ruled that prosecutors can use both Freeman's videotaped and written confessions at his upcoming murder trial. Freeman, now 17, faces charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence in the slaying of Tennant.

Best, 20, has been charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence. Both Freeman and Best have pleaded not guilty to those charges.

In a lengthy decision, delivered from the bench, Murphy said Freeman was first questioned by police after Tennant was reported missing from her great-grand mother's home in the 400 block of Sixth Street. She was reported missing about 6:20 a.m. on Aug. 27.

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

"It seems to the court to be good police work to interview anyone who could provide information about a missing child," Murphy said.

Detectives first spoke to Freeman at his Sixth Street home, in the presence of his father. Then, with his father's permission, they took him to police headquarters to continue questioning him.

For two hours, Freeman denied knowing what had happened to Tennant and even told investigators that his friend, Best, might have information about her because he had seen the little girl before she disappeared.

Murphy said the "tenor" of the police questioning of Freeman changed when Best showed up and told police what he knew. Investigators have said Best arrived at police headquarters and told them 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.

"The tenor changed based on information from Tyler Best that Isabella Tennant was dead and Mr. Freeman was the killer," Murphy said.

Detectives actually took Freeman out of an interview room where they could record what he was saying, so that they could put Best in the room and record his statement. When Freeman was brought back to the room, Murphy said he was read his Miranda rights and agreed to speak to investigators.

"(Freeman) said, "I guess so, because I already heard Tyler Best snitched," Murphy said.

The questioning by Detective Daniel Dobrasz then intensified.

"What did you hear?" Dobrasz asked Freeman.

"That Tyler Best snitched. That Tyler Best confessed that we murdered Bella," Freeman replied. "Did he (Best) say he did it?"

"You were asked what happened, you weren't honest, your (expletive) is in a sling," Dobrasz said to Freeman.

Freeman then told Drobrasz that he had killed the little girl.

"I guess I'm a little bit crazy," Freeman said, "I just admitted to a killing. I'm going down and it could be for life."

Dobrasz asked Freeman, "What did Tyler do?"

"Nothing," Freeman replied.

Murphy said the rest of the recorded statement included graphic details of how Tennant died.

During the interrogation, Freeman also gave investigators a DNA sample, his fingerprints and his cell phone.

Freeman's defense attorney, Robert Viola, told Murphy that he is still considering a potential insanity defense. The teen has undergone two days of evaluations and Viola said he expects to have a psychiatric report ready in three weeks.

Prosecutors are also expected to ask for an opportunity to have their own expert psychologist examine Freeman.

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."


Mother of dead five-year-old Isabella Tennant calls teen murder suspect 'a mooch' as coroner's report confirms she was choked to death by bare hands

  • John Freeman previously called a 'trusted friend' by friends and family

  • Isabella had been staying at house of great-grandmother on Sunday night where Freeman often spent time

  • Body found on Monday in garbage can four blocks away

  • Freeman pleaded not guilty to second degree murder

  • Isabella died from an obstructed airway and compression of the neck

By Victoria Wellman -

August 29, 2012

The 16-year-old boy accused of killing five-year-old Isabella Tennant in Niagara Falls, New York, and dumping her body in a trash can, has been described by the victim's mother, as a 'mooch'.

John Freeman, 16, lived three doors down from Isabella's great-grandmother's house and, according to Crystal Walker, had been a regular fixture there, using her computer, sleeping in her spare room when his heat was cut off and helping to mow the lawn.

The teen is pleading not guilty to second degree murder after a coroner's report found the toddler was choked to death by bare hands and testimonies have placed him at the house on the night.

In a heartbreaking interview, Isabella's mother revealed how her grandmother, Sharon Lascelle, had always found it hard to turn Freeman away even though Ms Walker had asked her repeatedly to stop 'just letting [him and his stepfather] come in whenever they want'.

'She's just so welcoming in her home and just trusts everyone,' a devastated Ms Walker told WIVB-TV on Tuesday. 'I do blame my grandmother because she... she was responsible at the time. But then again I can't because it wasn't her fault, she trusted this kid.'

John Freeman and his stepfather, she explained, often came over when times were tough after the teen's mother, who was 'really bad into drugs' deserted them.

Isabella's family had referred to Freeman as a trusted friend while a neighbour, speaking to the local Buffalo news channel, lamented: 'He's been around for about seven years. He'd known her since she was a baby.'

Ms Walker and the police are puzzled as to why Freeman would have done such a terrible thing after knowing the family so long, and authorities are still attempting to ascertain a motive since no signs of sexual abuse have been found.

A coroner confirmed, however, that Isabella died at the bare hands of her killer from an obstructed airway and compression of the neck most likely due to choking.

The blue-eyed, blonde haired girl had been wearing pink pyjamas with black stars.

Isabella had been staying at her great-grandmother's on Sunday night while her mother worked a shift at sports bar, Player's, in Niagara Falls but on Monday morning when Ms Walker went to pick up her daughter, they discovered she was not in the home and a search was mounted with dogs.

Police suspect that Freeman came to the house sometime on Sunday night, after Lascelle went to bed around 11pm and knowing that Ms Walker and police went straight to his house to ask if he knew anything.

But, she recalled, holding back the tears on Tuesday, Freeman appeared uncommunicative and told them only that he had last seen Isabella colouring at Ms Lascelle's when he left that night.

'He didn't even ask to help us look for her,' Ms Walker recalled.

The body of the five-year old, who has been described by her mother as 'energetic', 'warm' and 'full of life', was found on Monday afternoon after a friend of Freeman's, Tyler Best, led police to the trash can four blocks from Ms Laschelle's home.

Best, 18, has been charged with tampering with evidence and accused of helping to dispose of Isabella's body.

'I don't understand,' Ms Walker cried thinking about the gruesome details of her daughter's death. 'He could have left her in the basement and made it look like she fell. But instead, he took her little body three streets away and put her in a garbage can. I mean, who does that?'

At the arraignment on Tuesday at Niagara Falls City Court, during which both boys appeared on television blurred out, Freeman spoke only to answer the question: 'Are you a student?'

'No,' he replied looking only briefly at his own family and avoiding eye contact with Ms Walker, according to

But though Isabella's mother called Freeman a 'mooch', others outside the court had contrasting stories to tell of the boy.

Former Cadet leader, Christopher DiDonna, told News 4 that two years ago, Freeman had been a member of the Niagara Falls Junior Military Cadets, a program aimed at keeping kids off drugs and out of gangs.

'He was a squad leader,' Mr DiDonna recalled. 'He was an excellent cadet. I'm shocked. I can't believe this happened. [He] never had any violent tendencies.'

Though aware of the boy's unfortunate family situation, Mr DiDonna said that he seemed like any normal kid.

'I had great hopes for his future,' he said. 'I thought he would join the military. Leave the cadet program, join the military and become quite successful.'

Freeman is being tried as an adult and though he has pleaded not guilty to second degree murder, his future now seems gloomy.

Defense Attorney Robert Viola asked the judge on Tuesday for extra time to speak with his client and requested the confession be sealed.

He told reporters that he will seek to challenge Freeman's alleged confession to police and is considering having Freeman's competency tested to see if he is fit to even stand trial.

'It's my understanding the people's case for the most part rests on a reported statement given by my client,' he said.

On Tuesday night, about one thousand people from the Niagara Falls community gathered for a vigil and lit candles in Isabella's memory.

A neighbour told WIVB: 'We just held hands with the kids and told them, "say a prayer, taker her to heaven, tell Jesus to let her in and send that boy to hell."'

While Ms Walker struggled to come to terms with her tragic loss, Isabella's father, Michael Tennant issued a statement saying: 'Isabella was loved deeply by her daddy Mike and his fiancee Maria. Isabella enjoyed spending time with her cousins and family.

'Anybody who knew Isabella always saw her warm beautiful smile. The Tennant family appreciates your thoughts and prayers at this time of grieving.'

Mr Tennant had been a big part of his daughter's life though the couple were separated, caring for her a few days a week while Ms Walker worked two jobs to make ends meet.

Ms Walker recalled the youngster's excitement to start kindergarten in two weeks. 'She already packed a lunch, and it doesn't even start for two weeks,' she said. 'I just want everyone to know what a great girl she was and so full of life.'

'I just don't want it to be real. I just want her back. Everyone says "What can I do, what do you need?" I don't need anything but her back.'


Niagara Falls teen killed 5-year-old he was babysitting ‘with his bare hands,’ dumped body in trash can with 18-year-old pal’s help: cops

BY Philip Caulfield - New York Daily News

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An upstate teen killed a 5-year-old girl he was babysitting "with his bare hands" and, with the help of a friend, bagged her body and dumped it in an alleyway garbage can, police said.

Little Isabella Tennant's slain body was found in at the bottom of a trash can near downtown Niagara Falls at around 9 a.m. on Monday, a few hours after her family reported her missing, authorities said.

"It's a terrible crime. It tears at your heart," Niagara Falls Police Capt. William M. Thomson told reporters on Monday.

"I have grandchildren the same age as this victim, and it is horrible."

The suspect, John Freeman, 16, was described as a "trusted" family friend who was asked to look after the girl when her great-grandmother went to bed on Sunday night, authorities said.

"It is very disturbing," Thomson said, according to the Buffalo News. "We don't have any motive for this."

Freeman and a pal, Tyler Best, 18, of Buffalo, were charged in the girl's death and made their first court appearance on Tuesday morning.

Isabella, who lived in Cheektowaga, was staying overnight with her great-grandmother, Sharon Lascelle, while her mom worked a shift at a Niagara Falls sports bar, the Buffalo News reported.

Lascaelle went to bed at around 11:00 p.m., and asked Freeman to come over and look after the tot, authorities said.

Freeman and the family were "close," authorities said, and he had looked after the girl alone before.

The family reported Isabella missing at around 6:30 a.m. after her mom came home and couldn’t find her, authorities said.

Freeman was questioned, but told police he last saw the girl at around midnight, the Buffalo News reported.

Cops quickly got a break in the case when Best, who was crashing with Freeman, showed up at police headquarters at around 9 a.m. and admitted to helping dump the little girl's body.

Best led police to a trash can in an alley between Third and Fourth streets, just blocks from the Lascelle's home, the newspaper said.

The girl was fully clothed, and there were so signs the teen used any weapons to kill her, police said.

"At this time we believe Freeman killed Isabella with his bare hands ...and that Best was only involved after she was deceased and assisted with moving her remains," police said in a statement, which was posted on the local NBC News station.

An autopsy was planned for Tuesday morning.

Freeman was charged with second-degree murder, while Best was charged with tampering with evidence.

Both pleaded not guilty. They were due back in court on Sept. 7.

Hundreds of stunned community members gathered at Sal Maglie Stadium, a minor league ballpark, on Monday night for a candlelight vigil.

"There are no words I could say to take away (Isabella's mother's) pain… I support her and I love her," family friend Christina Conte told local NBC.



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