Coroner issues cause of death of 5-year-old girl; Teens charged in murder

Aug 28, 2012

The Niagara County Coroner released results of an autopsy Tuesday revealing the cause of death of 5-year-old Isabella Sarah Tennant.  

Niagara County Coroner Cindy-Lou Joyce tells WBFO & AM-970 News Tennant died from "asphyxiation due to mechanical obstruction of the airway and compression of the neck."

Two teenage boys,  16-year-0ld John Freeman and 18-year-old Tyler Best, appeared in Niagara Falls City Court Tuesday morning for an arraignment on charges related to the death of Tennant.

Both entered not guilty pleas.

Tennant's body was found in a trash can late Monday morning after she was reported missing a few hours earlier.   She was discovered in a plastic bag during the search of an alley between 3rd and 4th Streets off Main Street in the city.

Freeman is charged with second-degree murder, while Best is charged with tampering with evidence.   Both pleaded not guilty. They have been jailed and ordered back in court September 7.

Niagara Falls Judge Angelo Morinello closed the courtroom to the public and only allowed members of the media in the courtroom. The judge told reporters the teens' statements will be sealed.  The judge also determined they are both eligible for youthful offender status.

The teenagers showed no emotion during their first appearance in City Court this morning.

5-year-old Isabella Sarah Tennant

Niagara Falls Police Captain William Thomson announced at a news conference Monday afternoon that two teenage male suspects were in custody.

"It's a terrible crime. It tears at your heart," Thomson said.

Tennant went missing from her great grandparents' house on the 400 block of 6th Street around midnight Sunday night. Freeman was the last person seen with Isabella that night.

Tennant's mother was working at the time. Police say the little girl was a resident of Cheektowaga.

Around 10 a.m., Best came to police headquarters with information that led investigators to the body.

"The party showed up at the desk and said he had some information. He was able to lead us to the location of the victim," Thomson said.

Captain William Thomson says one of the suspects led police to the body.
Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News

Thomson says Freeman was a "trusted family friend."

After Tuesday morning's arraignment, Christopher DiDonna, a former Commanding Officer of the Niagara Falls Junior Military Cadets, showed reporters pictures of Freeman leading the group's color guard two years ago.

DiDonna says he is shocked because he knew and worked with Freeman, whom he called "an excellent cadet."

"I think he's mentally fit. He knew right from wrong," said DiDonna.

A photo showing Freeman, second from the left, in his junior cadet days.
Credit Photo by Christopher DiDonna

"He's not a bad kid. He made bad choices and a very bad decision," said Brandy Reid, a long-time family friend of Best.