Cunningham sentenced to 35 years for beating death of son

JoAnn Cunningham, 36, of Woodstock, Illinois.

McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt heard statements from neighbors and even slain 5-year-old AJ Freund earlier this month before handing down his sentence on the 18th.


On December 5th, JoAnn Cunningham pleaded guilty to a single count of first degree murder in a plea deal which saw 19 additional charges dropped and specific language changed within the charging documents.


McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally played an audio recording for the courtroom during the sentencing hearing in which those in attendance heard AJ telling his mother that he wished "really bad people" would do things to her so that he could live with his father.


Cunningham is heard asking him, "Why do you want those bad people to hurt me?"


AJ simply states, "So I don't ever see you again."


During proceedings on the 16th, Kenneally referred to Cunningham as "diabolical" and "evil" as he argued for the maximum 60 year sentence according to the Northwest Herald.


Rather than the maximum though, Wilbrandt handed down a 35 year sentence explaining in a statement that he was taking into account Cunningham's own childhood abuse and her struggles with addiction.  She will additionally be subject to three years of supervision upon release.


"We were disappointed," Kenneally said.  "We thought all factors were in place for the maximum sentence."


During the sentencing hearing, numerous people spoke about seeing abrasions, bruises and burn on AJ at various times.  He was the subject of many police and child welfare checks conducted at the home over the years.  The end result is that many feel as though AJ was failed on multiple levels.


"We all hope that through examining the history and the missed signals involved in this case that other young boys and girls might somehow be spared this horrifying result," Wilbrandt said during his sentencing.  "The heartbreaking story of five-year-old AJ Freund has spurred our community to seek new ideas and look for new ways to prevent similar abuse in the future.  And this court can only hope that such efforts will ultimately be successful.  And that children now and in years to come can be spared that disastrous life that befell AJ.  Miss Cunningham was responsible for that life.  And now she must be responsible for his death."'


After the hearing, Tracy Kotzman spoke on behalf of a child she never met saying, "So many people knew and could have done something about it and they didn't.  And this is not justice for AJ.  I thought today that if she got 60 years it still wasn't justice.  But that if that so-called father got his natural life in prison and DCFS is held accountable and responsible for their lack of action, they were deliberately indifferent."


The father, Andrew Freund Sr has pleaded not guilty to first degree murder and waived his right to a jury trial.  He remains in custody at the McHenry County Jail and is due to appear in court on July 30th.