NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) - On Tuesday, the accused killer of a 5-year-old girl in Niagara Falls and his suspected accomplice faced a judge, pleading not guilty in the death of Isabella Tennant.
Sixteen-year-old John Freeman is accused of killing little Bella with his bare hands. The Niagara County Coroner tells News 4 Bella's official cause of death is listed as mechanical obstruction of the airway and compression of the neck. Authorities say after Freeman killed the little girl, 18-year-old Tyler Best helped him move her body to a garbage can.
In court, "No" was the only word uttered by Freeman as he responded to the judge's question. His lawyer entered a plea of not guilty and asked the judge to seal his alleged confession to police. Bella's family told News 4 about the confession on Monday, which they say came after Best began cooperating with authorities and led them to Bella's body.
Attorney Robert Viola indicated he will attempt to get Freeman's statements to police thrown out and is considering having his client's competency tested to see if he is fit to stand trial.
The courtroom was packed, and not everyone who wanted to be inside for the arraignment could fit in. Outside the courtroom was Christopher DiDonna, who told News 4 that two years ago, Freeman was 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. He was an excellent cadet. I'm shocked. I can't believe this happened. [He] never had any violent tendencies," DiDonna said.
DiDonna says Freeman had a dysfunctional family life, but seemed like a normal kid. He thought the teen was on the right path.
"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."
Bella had been spending the night with her great grandmother while her mother, Crystal Walker, worked late. When Walker came to pick her up in the morning, she realized her little girl was gone. Hours later, Best led police to Bella's body.
Freeman is being charged as an adult with second degree murder. Best is charged with tampering with evidence. Both pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
The judge in this case ordered that the suspects' faces be blurred in video of the arraignment because they may be eligible for youthful offender status. However, the judge did not rule photos or videos obtained from other sources or authorities had to be obscured worse.
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