NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — Two teenagers charged in the death of a 5-year-old girl whose body was dumped in a trash can were arraigned Tuesday, one on charges he killed the child with his bare hands.
Niagara Falls City Court Judge Angelo Morinello entered not-guilty pleas for both 16-year-old John Freeman and his friend, 18-year-old Tyler Best. They were sent back to county jail without bail until their next court date on Sept. 7. An autopsy on Isabella Tennant was scheduled for Tuesday but as of 4 p.m., no results were available.
The teens were arrested after Best went to police Monday morning and led them to the garbage can and a trash bag holding Isabella's body. He told them he helped Freeman dispose of the body after Freeman killed her, police said.
Isabella's family had called police Monday morning to say she was missing from her great-grandmother's Niagara Falls home, where she was staying overnight while her mother worked at a corner bar just a few blocks away. Isabella's great-grandmother said she'd last seen her Sunday night with Freeman, a neighbor and family friend.
Police said they believe Freeman killed Isabella in the house, but they haven't detailed the attack.
In a statement issued to the media, Michael Tennant said: "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."
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Niagara Falls Chief Detective William Thompson said the girl was injured but there was no indication of sexual abuse.
"As far as we know, he was a trusted family friend," Thompson said. "It's a terrible crime. It tears at your heart."
Of Best going to police, Thompson said, "I imagine it was his conscience."
Freeman has been charged as an adult with second-degree murder. Best is charged with evidence tampering. Freeman and Best were in custody and couldn't be reached for comment. Their home phone numbers weren't listed.
Freeman and Best, dressed in blue jumpsuits and handcuffed, were in court for just six minutes and each said only one word, answering "no" when Morinello asked if they were students. Eleven members of Isabella's family and 11 supporters of Freeman filled the courtroom. There were no confrontations in or outside the court.
Robert Viola, the lawyer representing Freeman, said he met with the boy for a few minutes Monday and asked the judge to reserve his right to seek a hearing to see if Freeman is competent to stand trial. He also asked the judge to seal any statements Freeman gave to police. The judge agreed to both requests.
Viola did not return a call seeking comment.
Best was represented by Rodney Giove. A phone call to his law firm went unanswered Tuesday.
Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante has not returned repeated calls seeking comment since Monday afternoon.