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It appears a mental health defense may be used in the upcoming trial of a Niagara Falls teenager accused of killing a 5-year-old girl he was baby-sitting.

Robert Viola, attorney for defendant John R. Freeman Jr., said Thursday that his notice to prosecutors of his intention to use the psychiatric angle does not mean he is conceding Freeman is guilty. "Not in the slightest," Viola said. "We have to turn every stone."?Freeman, 17, of Sixth Street, is charged with second-degree murder in the Aug. 26 strangulation death of Isabella S. Tennant, of Cheektowaga, in the Sixth Street home of her great-grandparents, Sharon and Hank Lascelle.

A co-defendant, Tyler S. Best, 18, of Barnard Street, Buffalo, allegedly helped Freeman dispose of the girl's body in a stolen garbage tote left in an alley.

The girl's mother, Crystal Walker, had left Isabella with her great-grandparents while she worked at a bar on Niagara Street in the 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 has pleaded not guilty to tampering with physical evidence and first-degree hindering prosecution. Both defendants are being held without bail in Niagara County Jail.

The trial date of Feb. 25 may have to be postponed because of Viola's determination to have Freeman examined by a Williamsville doctor who, he said, "has very difficult time constraints."

Dr. Louise Feretti, a neuropsychologist, was one of two doctors recommended after Freeman was examined by Dr. Luther Robinson, a certified pediatric geneticist at Women & Children's Hospital.

Viola said he has worked with Feretti in other cases. "We would really like this doctor involved. She's well-credentialed and very good," he said.

Also very busy. Deputy District Attorney Holly E. Sloma said Viola informed her in a letter Wednesday "that it would take a number of months, five or six months, before the expert of his choice could meet with Mr. Freeman."

Sloma objected to such a long delay, and so did Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III, who said he could call Feretti and urge her to clear her calendar. Sloma said, "We may then employ a psychiatrist to examine Mr. Freeman." Sloma said she also wants to subpoena all of Freeman's school, hospital and mental health records.

Murphy ordered the attorneys to return to court Jan. 17 to update the situation.

email:?tprohaska@buffnews.com