LOCKPORT – A Niagara Falls teenager was arraigned in Niagara County Court Monday on charges of killing 5-year-old Isabella S. Tennant of Cheektowaga in an apparent strangulation in late August, while a friend faces an indictment accusing him of helping to dispose of the girl’s dead body in a stolen trash tote.
John R. Freeman Jr., 16, of Sixth Street, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence.
Tyler S. Best, 18, of Barnard Street, Buffalo, pleaded not guilty to tampering with physical evidence and first-degree hindering prosecution.
Best was arraigned first and left the courtroom before John was brought in.
Judge Matthew J. Murphy III denied bail for both teens, who already had been held in the Niagara County Jail without bail, as ordered at their first appearance in Niagara Falls City Court.
John faces a maximum sentence of 25 year to life in prison if he is convicted. Best faces a maximum sentence of seven years.
Murphy also issued a gag order, barring attorneys from discussing anything but scheduling with the media.
However, he refused a request from Best’s attorney, James J. Faso Jr., to close the courtroom on the grounds that both defendants are eligible for youthful offender status. He also permitted the presence of photographers and TV cameramen.
“This is a case of public interest,” Murphy said.
Isabella was killed on the night of Aug. 26 in the home of her great-grandparents, Sharon and Hank Lascelle, on Sixth Street, a short distance from John’s home.
John, who turns 17 Thursday, was regarded as a family friend trustworthy enough that Sharon Lascelle felt able to go to bed and leave Isabella in his care, the great-grandmother told investigators.
Best, who had lived with the Freemans for about a year, told police that John told him he had killed Isabella and needed help to dispose of the body.
Police said the pair stole a wheeled garbage tote from a neighboring home and placed the body inside. The girl’s body was found in the tote in an alley between Third and Fourth streets.
The girl’s mother, Crystal Walker of Cheektowaga, who did not attend the arraignment, had left Isabella with her great-grandparents while she worked at a bar on nearby Niagara Street in Niagara Falls.
The Lascelles called police the next morning to report the child missing. Shortly thereafter, Best came to Police Headquarters with his mother and led officers to the alley where the trash tote was left.
Best is to appear in court Dec. 6 for a pretrial hearing with Faso, who is representing him as a member of the county’s conflict defender staff.