LOCKPORT – The possibility of a psychiatric defense for John R. Freeman Jr., charged with the murder of a 5-year-old Cheektowaga girl he was baby-sitting, was raised during a Niagara County Court appearance Monday.

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann asked County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III to direct defense attorney Robert Viola to inform the prosecution by Dec. 20 if he intends to pursue a mental health defense for Freeman.

Murphy imposed that time limit, but Viola said he didn’t know if he would pursue that angle in the trial, set for Feb. 25. Freeman was scheduled to return to court Dec. 21.

Freeman, 17, of Sixth Street, Niagara Falls, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the Aug. 26 strangulation death of Isabella S. Tennant in her great-grandparents’ home in the Falls.

A codefendant, Tyler S. Best, 18, of Barnard Street, Buffalo, has pleaded not guilty to tampering with physical evidence and first-degree hindering prosecution. He allegedly helped Freeman dispose of the girl’s body in a stolen garbage tote left in an alley.

Both defendants are being held without bail.