Mother of 5-year-old AJ Freund sentenced to 35 years for his murder

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CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — A Crystal Lake woman was sentenced Friday in the 2019 death of her 5-year-old son AJ Freund.

JoAnn Cunningham, 37, was sentenced to 35 years in the murder of her son. The judge said she will have to serve 100% of her sentence. Afterward, she will need to serve an additional three years of mandatory supervised released.

Cunningham faced a sentence ranging from 20 to 60 years in AJ’s killing. In exchange for Cunningham’s guilty plea, prosecutors took life behind bars off the table.

The judge acknowledged her difficult history with drug abuse, including heroin, in announcing the sentence. He said while we sought out treatment for her drug addictions, the treatments failed.

After first reporting AJ missing in April of 2019, Cunningham along with AJ‘s father, AJ Freund Sr., finally led police to the 5-year-old’s body in a shallow grave. This was after police confronted Freund Sr. with cell phone video showing the child being beaten.

An autopsy revealed that the boy had been struck multiple times and died from blunt force trauma.

Off camera on Friday, the McHenry County State’s Attorney expressed disappointment with the sentence. AJ’s family also disappointed and saddened saying in a statement:

“We know that whatever the punishment, it will not ease the loss and pain we feel. AJ was an innocent, precious little boy whose life was taken from him after he endured, what we now know, was much pain and suffering. We had expected JoAnn would pay for that by spending her natural life in prison.”

Pete Flowers represents relatives including the boy’s grandmother and his former foster mother. AJ’s estate is suing DCFS workers who were involved in the case  and the state’s attorney said he is still considering criminal charges against them, while many continue to call for accountability and more structural changes at the troubled agency. 

“We need to convince leadership, the governor to take action give more oversight and start reforming,” State Rep. Tom Weber, District 64, said. 

Freund Sr. pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial on July 30.

The case exposed failings within DCFS, which dealt with the family since AJ was born with opiates in his system.

At Thursday’s hearing, Cunningham begged for mercy, but prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence.

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