NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — The lawyer for a Niagara Falls teenager says that people who know the boy are perplexed at the thought that he could have strangled a 5-year-old girl and dumped her body in the trash.
"It literally makes no sense," attorney Robert Viola said Friday following a brief court appearance during which the case against 16-year-old John Freeman was sent to a grand jury. "There is no explanation that we've either been able to receive or been able to develop in interviewing him."
Freeman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Isabella Tennant at the girl's great-grandmother's home, where she was spending the night while her mother worked.
Isabella, described by her family as an energetic and loving child who was looking forward to starting kindergarten, was killed after her great-grandmother went to bed, leaving her in the company of Freeman, who has been described as a trusted family friend.
"My limited investigation to date indicates that this is not typical behavior and is something that hasn't in any way ever been suggested as a problem in the past," Viola said. "We're as perplexed as I think everybody is."
Authorities have said there were no signs that Isabella was sexually abused.
An 18-year-old who police said was enlisted by Freeman to hide the body in a garbage can a few blocks away has pleaded not guilty to tampering with evidence. Tyler Best, who led police to Isabella's body the next morning, also waived his right to a preliminary hearing Friday, sending his case to a grand jury.
Relatives of both boys attended Friday's hearing in Niagara Falls City Court but declined to speak to reporters.
Several supporters and members of Isabella's family also left the courtroom without commenting.
Freeman, a gangly teen who had a mop of wavy hair at the time of his Aug. 27 arrest, appeared in court with a shaved head, though his lawyer did not know why. He spoke only to answer the judge's questions about whether he understood what was happening.
"He is extremely, extremely upset, remorseful concerning this whole proceeding, what he's been accused of, what he's alleged to have done," Viola said afterward, "and he's really overwhelmed."